School Reform

Those familiar with recent Danish politics will know that there have been some major school reforms. But even the informed observer, for example, those who work in education might not know the breadth and extent of the changes.

In April 2013 there was a lock-out. This is when employers prevent unionised employees from working and taking a wage during a dispute in a negotiation. This is subtly different from a strike. A strike is where unionised employees withdraw their labour during a dispute in a negotiation. Funny how everyone keeps calling it a strike now it’s passed into memory. I met a man who worked for the Modernisation Ministry and had been involved in the dispute. He called it a strike. It matters. This terminology matters.

Definition
MANISHA VAGHELA

The dispute was over two relatively minor points. Point 1:- should older teachers have a reduced timetable with no reduction in pay. Point 2:- should there be a national upper limit on lessons taught per week and a set amount of lesson preparation time.

Almost immediately the negotiations broke down. They broke down so fast the unions called shenanigans on the process. Evidence came out that interested parties such as the education ministry and finance ministry were involved in preparing and briefing ‘the employers’ (a federation of borough council politicians), in such a way that the negotiations would fail. The ministries had big plans for Danish schools and they were not going to wait for union buy-in.

A lock-out was unthinkable in March 2013 but went on for nearly a month. This wiped out the unions’ strike funds. No one expected such an extreme measure, especially not one that lasted so long.

When the government stepped in to ‘break’ the deadlock, they did so in a way that would fig-leaf the things they were not supposed to do. They were not supposed to act as puppet masters to the employers, they were not supposed to have managed the negotiation process from start to finish. They were supposed to be independent interested parties. To mask their interference they needed to give something to both sides.

The employers got their demands about senior working hours and preparation time. The major concession the government made to the teachers was curious: they would no longer have to work beyond 4pm on weekdays. They would not have to work evenings or weekends any more. As if this is something that teachers would actually want(!) Where do they get their ideas from?

from buttgenerator.com
from buttgenerator.com

Teachers in Denmark have been working with this new system for five months now and some interesting knock on effects have come up. Some of these will have been planned and some of them will be pure happenstance. It is hard to know the difference sometimes.

The changes were a lot more wide ranging than many people appreciate. It did not just affect schools run by the town councils which are free of charge called folkeskoler, but also the private schools, the boarding schools and the language schools. This is such an epic blog post I’m going to have to split it into parts.

Part Two: Folkeskoler

Part Three: Private schools

Danish Model Reprised

The Danish Model is a system where two parties: the employer and the employee can sit down and work out terms of employment. Compromise is expected. It seems to me that the biggest advantage of the Danish Model, is that the terms of someone’s employment is usually rather technical.

To someone outside of a particular job, the things that employees might stick on may seem overly pernickity.

Who really understands what anyone else does? Until you build code or fight crime or clean offices; you can only imagine (and romanticise the details).

As with all cases of confirmation bias, even as people patiently explain to you, for example: ‘no, that word means this’ and ‘that is not what people are fighting about’, people hear what they want to hear.

If someone has convinced themselves that all Danish teachers are lazy and useless, then no teacher (even a hard working, blameless British teacher), has any chance of changing their mind with their daring tales of hard work and success in the classroom.

If another person has decided that, as hard working as Danish teachers are, they are not working the same hours as everyone else then no clarification of what ‘normalisation’ is can ever hope to get through.

The government wanted to force these changes through. Had the Danish Model been allowed to run as usual, then the suggestions given by the government would have been weakened. Not by much, if you look at the course of the negotiations.

There were two things that the teachers’ unions stuck on.

1) Teachers over 60 should be allowed to have a reduced timetable on full-pay

2) Headteachers should not get the absolute final call on how to assign teacher’s activities. There should be an upper limit of lessons a week (25 hours) and a “pool” of preparation hours that the head can assign as they will.

The government, in their intervention, refused both. And so, now the terms of employment are that reduced timetables for teachers over 60 will be phased out and that headteachers can assign teachers to as many lessons a week as they want and (therefore), some lessons will have no paid preparation time at all.

Under the Danish Model, if the government has to break the deadlock, it cannot be one sided and both parties need to come away with something. I got a pay-bump of 300 kroner a month (Gee, I hope that’s after tax, I cannot WAIT to spend it), and the offer of extra training.

There was also an ‘assurance’ that teachers would not have to work evenings or weekends.

I doubt headteachers would want to treat their staff badly and would not want to overschedule their staff. But they will not be given enough money to be professionally considerate. And thusly, the buck stops with them (and not the government or the kommunes).

If I am given too many lessons a week to prepare for, then of course I will have to take work home. I just will be expected to work more hours than everyone else on my pay grade.

Most non-teachers have no idea what is about to happen to Danish schools. They are completely ignorant of how damaging these changes will be.

If this had run on the Danish Model, then teachers would have been able to modify the plans according to their professional needs and not solely due to budgetary requirements.

What gets me the most, isn’t the lack of sympathy strikes or the lack of peaceful direct action or the way that we have been taken for granted. It’s not people calling me lazy or a liar or freeloader. It’s not the loss of income. It wasn’t even misinformed people insisting that I could stop the lockouts singlehandedly by child minding teaching children in defiance of the rules.

What gets me the most is that the children of Denmark lost four weeks of schooling, so that the government could pretend that they were independent of these changes.

They wanted to bypass the Danish Model but not get in trouble for doing so.

They refused to release documents where the stated aim was “To prepare for the employment negotiations” because “they have nothing to do with the employment negotiations”. They insisted that they needed to do the intervention because “in the Danish Model sometimes lockouts happen and this has gone on too long”. They expected the people of Denmark to believe that they wrote 70+ pages of documentation about the new changes overnight. They claim that there is nothing odd about consulting the employers about how to make the intervention but not the teachers.

And, as usual, they got away with it because everyone is too apathetic to lift a finger to save what they say they believe in.

Four weeks with no schools, in a ‘democratic’ country.

For a game.

I am not sure who won but I know who lost.

Freedom of the Press

These two videos really sum it up for me. In the UK, politicians are just as fucking incompetent, mendacious and power mad as the ones in Denmark. The difference is, the media try to hold them to account. Heads roll occasionally, which keeps the rest on their toes.

First video: The Government of the UK has made several unpopular decisions, only to make U-turns (which makes them look incompetent). The man in charge of the money, George Osborne, sent a junior minister to be interviewed and the journalist rips her to shreds. She is gracious and calm under extreme questioning. And why? Because the Government are SCARED of the Press and the Press have freedom.
I must admit I cringe at how Paxman talks to Smith but if the fear of this sort of roasting keeps my government honest, then long may it continue.

Second video: It’s an oldie. Sorry it’s in Danish and I cannot be bothered to make subtitles. The tone of voice and body language is very instructive.
Basically, what you are watching is what happens after a journalist asked essentially the same question about the details of a plan involving private hospitals. The minister does not know the answers. He is keen to go home because it is Christmas and he loses his patience.

He swears at the journalist, he makes threats (‘don’t think you will get to interview ME again’ style), he throws insults, he shouts and the main thrust of his “argument” is that the journalist should have checked the questions with the spin doctor so he would have had more time to prepare. The journalist looks worried and tries to calm the politician down.

Nothing happened to the politician, there were a few Hitler Downfall memes and a couple of remixes of his rant but he did not have to step down and indeed a lot of people supported his unprofessional outburst.

News Translating: Parents need to be involved

From the Department of the Bleeding Obvious comes the news that if you want children to succeed, it is probably not a good idea to treat their parents like animals. And besides, most of them are already doing what you want and it’s still not working.

Terms of Reference

“Bilingual” doesn’t mean “someone who speaks two languages fluently” in Denmark.

Here, it means “someone with no Danish parents living in Denmark who intend to stay here longer than a five year contract”.

So, a child of a Dane in a mixed couple, is not “bilingual”. A child who travels the world with her Danish parents and picks up the local languages is not “bilingual”. Children born to “expats” are not “bilingual”.

“Non-western” means people from South America, Central America, all of Africa and parts of Asia.

“Western” means people from North America, Europe, Australasia and (possibly) parts of Asia. If they move to Denmark they are considered “expats” unless they marry a Dane.

Taken from Politiken: Expert: Parents must be involved if bilinguals have to learn Danish

No good comes from forcing parents to send their children to daycare.

More than half of bilingual children with a non-western background have large problems speaking Danish when they start primary school.

“If this development is going to be turned around, it is necessary to act in cooperation with daycare and parents.”

So says Agi Csonka. She is the director of Denmark’s Evaluation Institute which investigates and improves the quality of daycare and schools.

“Daycare cannot do this all alone. So there has to be a close cooperation with parents.

“A close cooperation can support the parents to develop their children’s language competences,” said Agi Csonka.”

Good experiences with suitcase of reading-books

The director tells that previously they had good results, when parents and institutions cooperate.

“They had a trial where a group of children got to take a suitcase of reading books home.

The trial showed very positive results. It shows that if parents get support, then their child’s level actually improves,” she said.

She thinks that three things need to be in place to help children on the right path: The right stimulation of children’s linguistic development, that staff have a high professional qualification – and as already stated a close cooperation with parents.

Parliament decided in 2011 that it should be possible to force the bilingual into day care but the Kommunernes Landsforening (KL) has no information on how widely this has been enforced in practice.

And amongst others, Venstre demanded that more of the bilingual children go to daycare.

Warning against forcing parents

“But force is far from the solution because most bilingual children actually already go to institutions”, points out Agi Csonka.

“So, we will not catch that many by forcing parents to send children to institutions,” she said.

There are several political initiatives to lift bilingual pupils’ linguistic competence. These include a large research project and a bilingual task force.

Noble Savages

I’ve got a riddle for you. When is an international public relations disaster not a public relations disaster?

Give up? When it happens in Danish!

Denmark is not perfect. But the image projected far and wide of the country is glowing, as if it very well might be. All the green energy and social democracy and liberality! Imagine a functioning welfare state! Imagine a country where women are just as equal as men! What a wonderful country, I wish I lived there.

When the Danish state or a Danish company very publicly shit the bed, there are no international consequences. What happens in Denmark, stays in Denmark.

If you are stupid enough to write about what goes on in English, you will be labelled as bitter, hateful, negative, racist and sometimes even asked to leave. It is not enough for Dane-enthusiasts to disagree with you, they have to bring your character in to disrepute. Nice, guys. Nice.

Bringing the foibles of Denmark to a wider audience is not without its risks, people get really emotionally involved in explaining how because they recognise that Denmark has a good work-life balance and you did not mention it when you were writing about forcible ECT; they are actually “objective” about Denmark. So, that is one reason why not many people do not write about the dark side of Denmark. It’s often emotionally taxing and occasionally dangerous.

Another reason, is the language factor. If I tell you that “hold din kæft” translates as “shut the fuck up” and then the person that said it says “actually, that’s a lot softer, it’s more like ‘shut up'”; what are you supposed to make of that? Is there a difference? Does the difference matter? Why is everyone shouting?

Along with not being sure which translation is closest, there is the no small factor of having to put a lot of Danish news through google translate to check your facts. Google translate is okay but it can only do so much. So, unless you have a Danish speaking correspondent on the ground, you are not going to know what is going on. And that’s only if you know there is something you need to put through google translate. You are never going to read all the Danish news output on the off-chance someone shat the bed.

The last factor, and the most important, is the “noble savage defence”. When Denmark, Danes or a Danish company do something that is socially unacceptable, if people from another country inquire “What happened there? Why are you doing something socially unacceptable?” the answer is “It is our culture. We cannot help ourselves. No one will have been hurt by what happened. It’s how we roll.”

Having no idea if that is true, the interlocutor must take the Noble Savage at face value. They just do things differently in Denmark. We do not understand their ways and we must not impose our cultural values upon them. They know not what they do.

And thusly, this is how “everyone” knows that women’s rights have won in Denmark. Even when clear evidence shows that a major computing company (Dell), has no respect for women in technology because they invite someone (Mads Christensen) to “provoke” by disrespecting women. And then nothing happens because “everyone” knew it was a “joke”. (I knew it was a joke, didn’t stop it being stupid)

Firstly, there is plausible deniability “the translation you have is subtly wrong” and then there is “Danish people have no concept of “bad form” because we are so utopian!” and lastly there is “The illusion of people being offended/thinking it was stupid is caused by people not understanding how jokes work. It’s their problem, we did not mean any disrespect when we massively disrespected women. Many people weren’t offended by it, it’s fine.” (I wasn’t “offended” but it still isn’t okay)

This isn’t just about Dell. This also goes for police abuse of power, beatings and use of pepper spray on protestors. If you spray irritants on a sit-down protest in the US, it sparks memes and outrage. If you do the same in Denmark, literally no one outside gives a fuck. Because it’s just their way. Those savage Danes, they have so much free speech, it’s not at all a worry when the police torture protestors with stress positions and chemical weapons.  It’s just their culture.

Anyway. I thought that was interesting. (Note to angry Dane enthusiasts: Start your own blog about the good things in Denmark, put the links in the comments, thanks)

Ytringsfrihed Competition

Hello Everyone!

It’s that time of year again when a new reader to the blog asks me,

“If you hate it so much, why don’t you LEAVE?”

This was in response to me translating the Danish news into English and then expressing worries about starting a family with my Danish boyfriend in the comments.

I just interviewed the boyfriend about why we don’t move to the UK and he says

Because I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna! Because we met here?… Maybe we WILL move one day. But not any time soon. Anyways, my line of work makes it really hard to … being in the military makes it really difficult to relocate to another country permanently. I suppose it’s not impossible to relocate but it’s fucking hard in this line of work.

There you are, questioning-readers. (I’m sorry he swore, I am shocked that he did. I have never heard a Dane swear before as it is destroys the hyggeligt tone and prevents proper dialogue. He must have learned the word from me. Sorry, again.)

I will continue to exercise my right to freedom of speech while I am here and you can ask me different questions in future. Maybe about the substance of what I have said? Just a suggestion.

Anyway. I have decided there will be only one “If you hate it so much…” comment on my blog per year. If more commenters decide to put that to me, I will edit them into different sentences. I will change them into more original thoughts. I will re-write them and I will laugh. I will laugh until I cry and the salt dries out of my body and I have to go eat some peanuts. That is what I will do. You want to try to deny me my right of freedom of expression by implying that only Danish-Danes are allowed to criticise Denmark? Fine. Your freedom of speech to express that thought has been rescinded forthwith. Because this is MY HOUSE and you are a GUEST here.

Without freedom of thought there can be no suc...
Ben Franklin, translated from the original Danish

I’m throwing this out to a competition. What should I write instead? What original thoughts can we put out into the universe to replace the mass produced silencer?

Custody

Distressing stories about the Danish state preferring Danish parents over foreign parents in custody disputes are nothing new. Even if the Danish parent is abusive, a deadbeat or kidnapped the child. The Danish state will award him full custody and ignore the doctor’s reports about sexual bruising on the child. They will award him full custody and laugh.

In some cases, children will be abducted by a Danish parent and then the foreign parent will be deported. In some cases, the parents will have joint custody but the Danish parent can have the other parent deported if they claim that they are deadbeat or uninvolved with their children.

The EU and other international courts have been informed but justice is slow.

There is a new heartbreaking case. According to Ekstra Bladet, a Danish man came to Austria and abducted his son. He had never been married to the mother, she had full custody and he had not been interested in his son until the Austrian state asked him to contribute financially.

This is as clear cut as they come, the Danish police should respect the international arrest warrant and return the boy. The mother, however, has been informed that the Danish state would prefer that her son be placed in a children’s home than returned to a foreign parent.

As much as earnest Danish people like to insist that only “non-western” foreigners are affected by their policies (as if that makes it better!), this is happening to an Austrian woman. If I had to list the ways that Danish people and Austrian people were different, I think I would get as far as language and national dish; and have to draw a blank. Her background is probably why this story has made the papers and other similar stories have not.

This also makes me feel very uneasy about starting a family with any Danish man. She is not married to the man, she has total full custody, it could mean he is not on the birth certificate (though I am not sure if that is the case), and yet the Danish state will support him even if there is an international arrest warrant out on him. They would rather support a man who would abduct his son from his mother in a planned attack than the Austrian state.

This is a failure of natural justice, of all human rights legislation and of the Danish legal system. This, and other cases like it, need to be resolved by the international courts. Denmark needs to be told by the other countries that its behaviour is totally unacceptable.

I know there will be people reading this who cannot believe it. They have an idea of what Denmark is and this does not fit at all with their worldview. You might want to dismiss these as exceptions, you might want to recall that other countries have similar problems, you might want to console yourself with the idea that other countries are worse. But you need to take a deep breath and think again.

Denmark is supposed to be better, is supposed to be an exemplary society, is supposed to be something special. At the very least, it ought to obey the international laws it has signed up to. It is flouting these laws (in part), because it knows that you will perform the mental tricks necessary to keep Denmark pure in your mind.

If the international community wakes up to the fact that Denmark is in many ways similar to countries we look down on for being shitholes; maybe that will be the shame needed to propel Denmark into acting the way the hype claims it does.

It WOULD be worse in North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan. It MIGHT be similar in the US. It COULD be comparable to the recent treatment of all fathers in custody battles. But that does not excuse it and it certainly does not justify any inertia about improving.