Blog Post 12

A friend of my parents sent me this New York Times Article. Then they convinced me to write in to them, which I did and obviously they aren't going to publish it, because it's far too long, so I figured I'd post my thoughts here.

Dear New York Times:

As an American who has been living in Denmark for the past year and a half, I felt the need to write to you after multiple people sent me your inflammatory article about mandatory preschools in my host country.

 

First of all, it should be noted that there is an inaccuracy in your article. At age 6, all children who have not elected to join the norm and enroll in børnehave ("children garden", a high end Montessori experience that teaches them how to operate in society and think independently, not to be confused with the inferior kindergartens of the United States) must take a language exam and, if they fail, are then compelled to go to Danish nursery school. So education is essentially compulsory at age three, not age six. 

 

Second, please keep in mind, that Denmark, unlike the United States did not conquer its land through disease, deceit and aggression, but are the indigenous people. Whereas the United States is an immigrant nation of over 419 million, Denmark is a country populated by less than 6 million people who have lived there since their ancestors intermarried with the neanderthals. Just like the Cherokee or Iroquois, it has a unique and wonderful culture worth preserving and emulating. The United States should always be a country that celebrates diversity and honors the heritage of all it’s inhabitants, because it has always been a salad bowl country. Denmark, needs to stay Danish. While my Jewish ancestors have proven that is possible to also be part of a subgroup in Denmark, it is essential that people who wish to emigrate here assimilate to a certain degree, learn the language, eat rugbrød and adopt the norms, otherwise the language and culture will tragically disappear. Anyone who doesn’t want to do that, should move to Canada. 

 

Third, I feel it is important for readers to understand the nature of a Danish ghetto. Unlike in the United States, government projects are the preferred rental housing. All properties are rent controlled here, but many landlords on the private market flaunt the rules, overcharging tenants, hoarding deposits and not necessarily maintaining the building, whereas public housing projects are non-forprofit and the rent money goes back in to maintenance of the buildings. They are clean, safe, modern and nice. For most of my time in Denmark, my family has lived in Slagelse, referred to as the Detroit of Denmark, which we have found a laughable comparison, since it is a picturesque little city with wonderful amenities where children as young as eight happily wander about unaccompanied by adults. The Slagelse municipality does house three of the country's ghettos, one of them in the city proper, which I have often visited with my infant and three year old son. Our bike has never been stolen, we have never felt afraid running across the manicured green to play with friends and climb on the well-loved jungle gym. The apartments are small, but nice enough that a Danish college professor friend of ours opts to live there with his pregnant wife and 3 year old. To be sure there are some drugs, someone once set a car on fire and if there is going to be gunfire in Denmark, a ghetto is where it happens. However, gun violence is a rarity here. In the United States, there are neighborhoods with such frequent violence, normal people are taking classes on gun trauma treatment, while schools and dance clubs in nice areas are at risk from mass shootings, but in Denmark that is unthinkable. The areas are called ghettos, because they are the problem areas. They shouldn’t exist. The goal is to get that designation removed from all of them by lifting its residences up to the same standard of living as the rest of the country. They are nothing like their counterparts in the United States. An American would consider them normal middle class neighborhoods and maybe just dub it with some cute little nickname like ‘Little Persia’.

 

It is also important to point out that your article confuses religion with culture, as well as tries to apply American values to a wholly different society. Denmark’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, both it also has a state religion, Lutheranism and it would not be unreasonable to expect anyone moving to a country with a state religion to familiarize themselves with it. Lutheranism permeates the Danish culture. Every holiday is based on the Lutheran calendar. Births are still recorded by the church.  Society lacks hierarchy like the Lutheran church. The flag has a cross on it.But here’s the thing: it’s not religion; it’s culture. Most Danes are agnostic and since religion is a highly private thing, indeed asking someone about their religion is considered extremely rude, nobody knows their neighbor’s beliefs or cares. Many people these days opt not to baptize their children, but they still have big naming parties. Confirmations are standard here, even though most people are just having the celebration and not doing anything with the church. As a Jewish family, we feel very comfortable here. We are also agnostic and everyone respects, even approves, that we celebrate the high holy days and such as a cultural thing and not a religious one. They will happily participate in Shabbat and we have no problem letting our son dress like a Santa Claus and pretend to give out presents to his stuffed animals. That’s right, A Santa Claus, the Yulemen are widely recognized as a German import and a part of the exciting month of Yule where everyone parties, gets presents, decorates their houses and generally distracts themselves from the fact that we’re loosing 20 minutes of light each day. There is no Christ in Christmas, it’s called Yule here and mainly revolves around Nisse, a pre-Christian type of gnome that lives in your attic and protects you (if you’re nice, if you mistreat them, forget to leave them out their solstice offering they will follow you your entire life making it unpleasant). The kids dress up as Nisse, there are Nisse imagery everywhere, they even might bring a Nisse doll and journal home from børnehave to show it around the place. Easter is equally secular, or pagan if you will. 

 

Lastly, your article seems to misunderstand the very basics of Danish society. Unlike the United States with its 18 million in extreme poverty and large swaths of country where it’s not possible to find a job, tiny Denmark has an impressive public transportation system, minimum wage so high you could make a career out of working at a convenience store, free higher education and stipends for those studying, excellent socialized medicine and tax deductions for people with long commutes essentially nullifying the cost of transportation. Denmark has one of the smallest gaps between rich and poor and great upward mobility. Here it’s not a platitude to tell children they can become anything. These people in the ghettos aren’t stuck, they can get jobs and move if they don’t like the rules. 

 

In conclusion, a country that has just had a humanitarian crisis of ripping thousands of children from their families without even the proper documentation to reunite them, a country with crippling student debt and a medical system so expensive and broken people die of curable illnesses, a country rich enough to fix it’s problems, but instead spends tax payers' dollars on security for the president to go golfing and his cabinet to buy fancy dining room sets, a country that is still practicing racial discrimination in the housing market, agricultural industry and flat out has law enforcement shooting black men without recrimination, has no business acting like another country requiring mandatory high end preschool for their most at risk group is a scandal. Instead of trying to find flaws in the Danish system, perhaps the New York Times should look to Denmark and it’s Scandinavian neighbors, some of the happiest, most democratic countries in the world, for examples of policies the United States should enact.