Monday, September 13, 2010

Got fight?

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about the differences in the school environment in Denmark vs. that in the US (Texas, to be more specific).

I have written many blogs about these differences, but there is one difference that has really been coming back to me again and again....

As a principal I cannot begin tell you how many fights I broke up and/or dealt with in five years....
Fights in the classroom
Fights in the cafeteria
Fights in the hallway between classes
Fights at pep rallies
Fights at football games
Fights in the parking lot at dismissal time

In fact, I received 2 fractured ribs courtesy of my breaking up a GIRL FIGHT one year... (Note to self: only break up BOY FIGHTS...girls are awful!)

Anyway, I have never seen a fight since I have been at Herning Gymnasium.
In fact, I have never seen tempers flare so that I might have feared that a fight was brewing.

The ONLY FACTORS that I can think of are:
1)our schools in the US (Specifically in Texas) tend to be more heterogeneous with relation to race; and 2) our schools in the US (specifically in Texas) tend to be more heterogenous with relation to socio-economic class.

Do we really have more fights because American schools are more multicultural with more disparity between the classes? Or am I WAY off?

I really do want to understand this...
I wasted so many hours on fights...on the paperwork associated with suspending kids and on the time it took to notify parents about their children's behavior....  But why?

I want all educational environments to be as productive as the one I work in...all teachers deserve the opportunity to just focus on teaching while all kids focus on learning. Novel concept, huh? But how do we accomplish it?


Annemette Kuhlmann said...

Ahh,I've been down that same path....and my conclusions were very different (and maybe I'm in too deep here???)
I've heard parents talk openly of how their kids get a "ass-whooping" when they cross certain lines and break important rules.....and I seriously believe that children do what their parents learn them to do.....they solve problems with hitting and beating up each other instead of talking/yelling.
The kids in Denmark have an awful mouth and they learn to speak back to the teacher and each other (and it often sounds awful) and do their fighting verbally (and that can be much meaner) but I guess that's one of the cultural differences.....Danes do a lot of yik yakking (also) in their raising of kids, where the Americans are a "little" more physical.
....and another difference is that I hear people talking about, rather having a bully than a victim in the family (which also might be slightly different from DK) so this "standing up for themselves" is learning the kids to fight back and not to turn the other cheek.
I don't know what's better of the two......I still have this idea that the wars of the world start because people rather would use force than words and if you learn the kids that, this is an ok way to solve probelms......well then.....
....again somewhere inbetween there might be a good answer.

Anonymous said...

That is one conclusion I don't like.. but there could be something in it. Another explanation could be the entire culture and upbringing of kids in Denmark. One factor being TV and video games - less violence on the TV in Denmark compared to Texas?

Nina Ø said...

It isn't just education. It is the America and Danish values you are seeing. My favorite book on Denmark is "We Are a Little Land". It is subtitled "Cultural Assumptions in Danish Everyday Life" by Judith Friedman Hansen. (1908, Arno Press, New York.) I think it was a Ph.D thesis for UC Berkeley.

Fighting is aggression. Danes are weaned on cooperation and compromise. Fighting is an excluding behavior. Danes are weaned on inclusive behavior. No one gets left out. Danes are weaned on moderation and balance. Fighting is excessive behavior. Fighting is about being better. Danes are weaned on everyone is equal. It is not a "platitude" -it is for real.

And last but not least, how can you make fest and a hyggelig time with fighting. The former are far more important.

Denmark is not every man for himself by his bootstraps. Denmark is about the wellness of the samfrond, the community, the society. In America, someone fails and we are judgemental and point the finger. In Denmark we ask "how did we (society) fail the person?

The primary values of Danish society are not food. They are festlighed, hygge, egalitarian (how can you fight someone who is equal?), balance and moderation, inclusive for all, and clustering.

You are so fortunate to be able to teach in Denmark.

One last thing. The national anthem of Denmark has no bombs bursting in air. It is a lovely song about beech trees and blue sky and blue water and laying those Vikings (aggressive) to rest.

Warning: Aggresion is not a Danish value. However, we all know what happened to the Danes who conspired with the Nazis. There is room in the Oresund for more disappearances if the need arises again. Just because we are not aggressive does not mean we cannot solve a problem for the samfrond.

Mark Twain once said that Denmark was more a tribe than a country. He had a point. Have a great time in Seattle.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting what Nina O posted.

Yes, I believe socioeconomic status has much to do with the violence that plague US schools. Quite possibly with a better healthcare system there could be school referrals for counseling and such.

That, and violence is tolerated. Sure you get suspended or isolation in school, but there aren't any true consequences. Toss a few assault charges, spend a couple nights in a Juvy, revoke a driver's license and they might start getting the point.


Archaeogoddess said...

Some interesting ideas about the calm and civilized behavior of Danes.

I guess the only violence that happens in Denmark is due to the immigrants? LIke the biker gang wars in Copenhagen? And the drunken brawls I've had to dodge when passing by bars? Couldn't be Danes! Danes are all sweetness and light and rainbows coming out of my ass.

Look, I grew up in the US and my little po-dunk town had a wide range of social-economic classes (there was a state prison located just down the road and fine vineyards were just up the hill) and while you may have not called us properly multi-cultural, we did have latinos, whites, asians, and native americans. And the number of fights at my school? None that I remember. Yeah, there was yelling and threats. You know, the "I'm going to kick your ass!" But a teacher could stick his or head out and yell "Oi!" and the kids would walk away flipping each other off.

This sort of thinking, trying to form generalities out of a few outstanding examples, is what gets much of the world into trouble. Just because there appears to be a correlation does not mean there is one.

Lets look at another example. Berkeley, the home of the university, is my old college town. Great diversity and very peaceful. We like to blame the pot, but it could also be the acceptance every person has for every other person living in Berkeley. It is generally believed that we are all worthy of equal treatment even if we are not all the same. Oakland, just south of Berkeley, was predominantly poor and predominantly black - far more homogeneous than hippy dippy Berkeley - and far more violent. From this we could extrapolate that homogeneity breeds violence. Or what is generally hypothesized by sociologists - poverty begets violence.

Nina, I'm sorry, but your view of your country is sweet and but very wrong. Skinheads walk down Vestergade, my brother-in-law was attacked by young white Danish thugs (approximately age 12) who stole his bike on Amager. These are just a few of the bad apples in Denmark who are ethnic Danes raised in the so-called happy Danish way. The Denmark spoken of in a PhD dissertation published in 1908 is hardly relevant to the kids in ghettos here in DK today. A very good friend of mine is a social worker who works with these kids. Kids who knife each other in the streets of Randers over name calling! (But hey, at least they keep it out of the schools!)

Kelli is very lucky that she works in a school where there are good kids. Maybe she was particularly unfortunate in working in a school in Texas with particularly bad kids. But not all kids in the US beat the crap out of each other and not all Danish kids are going to talk out their differences because gee-golly, underneath it all, they are all the same!

And Mark Twain did NOT mean the "tribe" thing as a compliment. It means you are backwards and insular - not good to a well-travelled man in the mid 19th century.

MoMo 2.0 said...

One thing I need to point out--my experience for those five years was in a pretty affluent suburb of north Dallas...often referred to as a "white flight" area. However the city had one low income housing apartment complex in our district. Just to muddy the waters a bit.

Annarella said...

I'm not so sure the reason is that Denmark is more homogeneous than the US, and I don't believe that TV violence makes violent kids. I tend to agree more with Annemette and Nina, that kids do what their parents do, and in Denmark it is not only illegal, it is seen upon as a very disgusting and pervert action if you spank your kid. In the US, parents talk openly about it. It makes me want to throw up when I hear parents threaten their kids with violence here in the US, and unfortunately it happens a lot! So of course these kids grow up to be violent themselves. Danes are brought up to be cooperating and compromising, and learn to talk and argue to get their ways. I think it's funny how American high school kids group themselves. Popular vs. the not so popular. Band kids, sports kids, cheerleaders, and geeks, who rarely talk with each other and fight within their own group to be the best and most popular. Of course we had different interests when I went to high school in Denmark, but we all respected each other and knew how to drink beer together in school every Friday afternoon. I don't remember anyone being more popular than others.

Danes learn to be together peacefully in big groups already in preschool. In the US, to me it seems like most preschools are busy teaching the kids to read and write, where in Denmark it is all about social skills. Preschool teachers spend most of the day teaching the kids how to cooperate, respect each other and solve problems. In the US playgrounds are set up so the kids are under 100% surveillance and the adults are ready to come and solve problems FOR the kids. In Denmark we make room for the kids to hide behind hills and bushes so they get to try their new problem solving skills, but they can always call for an adult, who will come and help them if they need help to find a way to solve a fight. In the US adults often solve kids problems by deciding (no matter if they saw the whole episode or not) who was "right" and who was "wrong" and then the "wrong" kid gets some kind of punishment: Go stand in a corner for 10 minutes or something equal ridiculous. So by the time American kids start in school their only problem solving tools are telling the other kids to go stand in a corner (good luck with that one) or to use violence like mom and dad does at home. The Danish kid has a lot bigger toolkit and already knows how to defend itself. Knows when to walk away, knows when to to stand up against the bully and how to talk back and find compromises. Of course the young school kids are not fully educated in those skills yet, but the school teachers do a lot to help too, and will discuss friendship, teasing and problems in class. So of course by the time the Danish kid starts in high school, violence and bullying seems like a very childish behavior to them.

And yea, I know there is violence and crime in Denmark and there are peaceful school in the US, and I know schools are not always like I describe in DK or US, I only speak about the schools I have experienced in both countries.

Anonymous said...

I think it's cultural. Grown up's don't fight, it would be soooooo childish. Not in highschool where you try to act adult. Every one would frown. The fighters will not be invited to the next parties. They will loose their girl- and boyfriends.

I just NEVER heard about figting in the gym' where I went, but one guy from the same year got himself a reputation of beeing mean at parties when drunk, and where consequently not invited to events with alcohol ever after.

NotQuiteDanish said...

All I can say, is that in general, I feel much safer walking around the streets of Copenhagen at any time of night than I would Melbourne. I don't think DK is perfect - where is? But I sincerely doubt, Archaeogodess, that Denmark, per head of population, would be anywhere near as violent as the US, Australia or GB. In fact, it would be interesting to see the figures. If a murder occurs in DK, it's in the papers for weeks. We have one or more a day in Australia and I suspect even more in the US.

Anonymous said...

In your blog post, you mentioned one of the reasons the fights took place was due to socio economic disparity. Now you mention you had lived in an affluent district.
I feel you cannot generalise and make sweeping statements, such as there is more violence among children in the states. Comparing one school in america with ONE school in denmark does not a study make.
Honestly in most of your blog posts you have looked at demark thru rose tinted glasses. And good for you in appreciating and liking the environment where you are at now. However this kind of unfair comparisons should not be made. Have you read in the media outlets about how violent some of the teens in denmark are. Or that some parents have even confessed to not being able to have any authority over their children. I have friends who have been mugged by these teens in denmark. My friends in the states have never been mugged by teens. So shall I also make this statement that teens in denmark are lean towards criminal activities?
I am myself a teacher and I have taught in different parts of the world, around asia and america. Even though I have experienced different attitudes from children, I do not make unfair comparisons.

MoMo 2.0 said...


I was clarifying that I was in an affluent district with 1 low income housing project that was bused into this very affluent area...thus the extreme disparity.
I was not making generalizations, but rather telling what my experiences have been and trying to understand why that is.

It is not that one group of kids is better or that one culture is better, but I am trying to understand what we are doing in each culture that might have an effect on these things....

I wish you had signed your name so I could address you more personally and so that you could also know that you will never meet a bigger champion for students than I am...
Anyone that has ever worked with me will attest to that. I just want to know what makes my job here in Dk so much more focused on TEACHING than on discipline like my colleagues back in Texas are constantly being faced with....
it breaks my heart and I want to understand WHY it happens...
hence the post... I am hoping that by hearing from others with diverse experience I can gain a little insight...

HOLMES said...

Why are there so many fights in schools...I think it boils down to living in a society where value is placed on each individual as opposed to living in a society where worth is determined by factors that are largely out of a person's control. Everything is a competition in the US-- to be the prettiest, wealthiest, smartest... it's always some sort of superlative. And if you stick out in any way, you get made fun of. In the US, people who scream, sass, mouth off, and threaten are acknowledged first and dealt with/pacified first. So kids just learn that tantrums and trying to control other people is the way to get things.

With DK having the honor of being named "Happiest Place on Earth", I imagine Danes value fellow Danes differently. Just a guess.

Nina Ø said...

I want to thank the person who saw that I gave a copyright of 1908 for that great book about Danish Cultural values. It was a typo. The first printing was in 1980 actually. Yeah, 1908 would not be valuable.

It was Annarella I think. So thanks and I agree with alot of what you said. Violence happens in both countries but from being in both countries, violence is not looked down on here in America and it really bothers me. We have the hightest prison rate "per capita" in the world. You are so spot on that kids do not get any kind of toolkit to solve problems. And I see Denmark as having alot of honor for the domestic/family area of life whereas America still puts "might is right" as #1. I was in my forties before I realized that the great 'problem solving tools" I got from my parents was really a Danish 'toolkit'. The goal is always win-win. Thanks for the great dialogue forum Kelli.

Anonymous said...

I really do not feel like this is something that can be generalized so easily.

Basically, the posts have said:
Denmark: good problem solving skills, community-feeling,
USA: individualistic, violent parents??

Really? That is very unfair. I'm sure there is a mix of all of those qualities in all countries around the world. And I've seen statistics about high bullying rates in Danish schools. Perhaps they don't physically hit, but I think verbal abuse should still be counted...

Anonymous said...

Nina Ø-My grandfather was living in Denmark during Germany's occupation,he was one of the skippers who sailed many of the persecuted numbers out of Denmark and he would tell stories of fighting face to face in back alleys in resistance of the Germans.Was he brave?Was he violent?Matter of interpretation.

The impression I got was that he and his lads would,if they saw a chance,fight one on one against the people in uniform who were pushing them around.

He left Denmark.Turned his back on the Danish.Lived his own life instead.No national pride there at all.Maybe because of the fact that he fought a pretty lonely fight way back then?Danes will,even today,puff themselves up in pride about their glorious values,but when push comes to shove, what actually happens?We have a war on multi culturalism going on here today.Wow,now we really see national resistance.

In recent years the 'resistance' in 1940's Denmark has been hyped up.To myth status.Denmark's historical handshake with Germany wasn't quite as resistant as people like to make out.This is of course,not a comment that is allowed to be made.You glorify Denmark as being non violent,and yet neighbor wars within denmark have more than doubled in the past ten years people arguing over boundaries and the murder rate in Dmrk is probably as high as many places.

I've been in Danish schools,not even in the deprived areas,and seen levels of bullying and aggression between the children that would be unacceptable in some other cultures.I've also seen teachers being physically overwhelming with small children here and children attacking teachers.Not every day, not everywhere, but it happens.Why pretend that Denmark is perfect or near perfect when there is proper honest work to be done?

It's an absolute myth that Denmark is gentle and of high moral character.It's a myth that puffs people up and distracts from what is really going wrong here.

Kelli may have witnessed some schools in the US that had problems with violence.Not all schools in the US are violent. It's hard to generalize but we still do it.That is natural,we all base our opinions on what we know, as I have here.

My experience is that Danish kids play with toy guns,watch violent videos beyond their age and bully in subtle and excluding ways. Danish schools are very exclusive!

I am signing this anon because I don't want to bring my family into this since I have used personal details.I think that is perfectly acceptable.

I recently went abroad to meet with a friend who happened to be of the Jewish faith,she overheard me complaining about some aspect of the culture in Denmark,became very cross with me and said that Denmark can't be all that bad due to it's record rescue of the Jewish people during the war.

Had my grand-dad still been alive today he would have been able to inform her that the rescue was down to personal choices and nothing whatsoever to do with the Danish personality or morals.

For the record,this writer is very much against violence in schools, but feels that violence in schools and institutions is endemic.Denmark is no better off in that respect.

It is worth knowing that the Danish 'resistance' who did so much sabotage during the German occupation would be termed as terrorists by today's standards.
As Nietzsche said: there are no facts, only interpretations.

Archaeogoddess said...

My point was *not* that Denmark is as violent as the US. That would just be silly. I looked it up and the US has 5 times as many murders per 100,000 people as Denmark. The US has guns aplenty, making murder easy, but if you want to kill someone in DK, you have to get up close and personal. Personally I think that if you pried the guns out of the hands of Americans, the murder rate would drop exponentially. I am all for gun control.

My point is that Denmark is not a place where all children respect each other or where all Danes respect other Danes and treat them as equals, nor is the US a place where all children are beaten by their parents and therefore beat each other and grow up to be bloodthirsty lunatics (for the record, I was spanked, my brother wasn't, I have yet to assault anyone and neither has my brother).

These simplistic over-arching interpretations of Danish and American culture do nothing to get to the root of why violence happens among children. Why do some US children pick up guns and mow down their peers and other US children volunteer at homeless shelters? They've been exposed to the same violence on TV, violence in music, maybe one was spanked maybe one wasn't. Same when pondering violence in Danish children, why do some Danish kids solve their problems by talking it out and why do some grab knives and stab? They've all been to vuggestue and børnehaven and they have been surrounded by people just like themselves for most of their lives. You can only solve these issues by looking within the lives of these children and their own culture, not by comparing cultures.

I find it interesting that some see the US as a place where sticking out is made fun of whereas it is implied that this is not true in DK. Yeah, as a kid, I did get made fun of for being different; I'm not arguing that kids aren't mean in America. But as an adult, I find most people have moved past that. Then I moved to Denmark. My way of eating, my way of dressing, right down to the way I move has all been at some time or another been a point of mirth for Danish ADULTS. Where I come from, being adult means you stop picking on people for being different (although the US media is very good at finding badly behaving Americans). Here at least 50% of the time I have to defend myself for why I eat with a fork and knife like *so*.

Personally, I find the majority of Danish children to be overly entitled, rude and badly behaved. I've been hit by Danish children for not getting out of their way fast enough. I've also been kicked by one for not doing what he told me to do. If he'd been my child I would have taken him aside and told him that it is not right to kick people and yes, I think he would have had to sit in a corner for 2 minutes while he thought about his wrong behavior. Instead his mom gave him candy to distract him. While some of you may find my use of "time-out" to be barbaric and vomit inducing, I find your methods of child raising to be irresponsible and just as nauseating. I wonder how many other children and adults will have to suffer that little boy's horrific behavior before he learns that we don't kick people.

Also, this "happiest nation in the world" business has got to stop. According to the WHO - suicides in the US per 1000,000 are 11 and in DK it is 10 (the UK has 9 and the Netherlands has 8). This often toted survey really only tells you that Americans think that things could be better and Danes are pretty sure this is as good as it gets.

Nina, it’s an interesting book and I look forward to reading all of it - but the study still took place between 1968 and 1969 (Hansen 1980: 9) - a time of great social upheaval. I think much has changed in the last 40 years: the politics, economy, and social fabric of Denmark is profoundly different. I would be interested in comparing the Denmark Hansen recorded then and the Denmark of today.

June said...

Kelli, are we trying to question if heterogenous groups are more violence prone than homogeneous ones? Violence is not a racial trait.

If there is less violence in schools in DK it's possibly because of their social conditioning and several other factors- a main one being lack of vast social and economic disparity which causes lesser conflicts and competetion.

While there may be more violence in schools in USA, there is also a high number of children with separation anxiety and other psychological issues in Denmark. Some places people fight it out, other places people go to the shrink. Problems manifest themselves in children in different ways.

It is great that you've tried to start a dialouge on different ways of conflict resolution in American vs. Danish schools, but to base the premise on race/ homogeniety is dangerous and ignorant.

MoMo 2.0 said...

just to clarify--
I am NOT saying that what I observed is based on race or economics. I said those 2 things only to say that those are the 2 main differences in the 2 cultures-- American and Danish.
Denmark is very homogeneous. America is not.
Denmark is very similar with regard to income levels. America has disparity between the classes that widens every day.

Neither of these are CAUSES by any means...
they are just the 2 factors that I can see as differences.... so they made me wonder about roots??

Both societies have conveniences of being in the West. Both societies have high literacy rates and both societies place a high value on education.
So why do I see such drastically different things happening in the hallways of the 2 institutions?

And it was not that my school was "rough" school was in an incredible community with involved families and mostly, upper middle class incomes, yet there were fights on a very regular basis.
And we are not an anomaly.. I was a member of the Texas (and American) principals' associations for five years and every single year, every single conference we kept coming back to this same topic.... violence and increased discipline problems in our high schools... So I know we were not the exception, but sadly closer to the rule.

So please do not read this post as a way to generalize or stereotype.
I am searching for understanding and hoping that all the experiences that those in my electronic world have had will help shed some light on this for ALL of us.

June said...

Thank you for the clarification. I assumed, from the content and tone of your post, that you BELIEVED those factors to be the reasons.

Nina Ø said...

"I want all educational environments to be as productive as the one I work in...all teachers deserve the opportunity to just focus on teaching while all kids focus on learning."

Bottom line is you are currently teaching in a micro culture where that is part of the micro culture and families in the area.

That may not be true in inner city CPH or inner city Austin Texas. But it apparently correct for where you are at the present time.

How much do you want to dissect it and how much do you want to enjoy it? I really enjoy your blog here in California and I share it with my relative in DK.

Lisbeth said...

I think another factor is that in Denmark, most of those students who want to study continues their school at the 'gymnasium' after year 9 or 10, while the ones not happy with school, leave school to start working or continue in a school more aimed at vocational training. This makes the Danish 'gymnasiums' even more homogeneous than the last years of high school in the anglophone countries.
Also this shift represents some sort of 'transition' to adult life and the teachers at 'gymnasiums' (as well as the teachers at the vocational schools) can thus expect the students to take responsibility and generally act in a more adult manner.
I'm sure that the teachers in the Danish 'folkeskole' do spend some of their time breaking up fights etc.

BABS said...

Check this link out:

a 14 year old boy (who happens to be diagnosed with Aspergers) speaking beautiful about homogenized societies and the dangers of them.

This guy has such a wonderful train of thought.