Indiana University Overseas Study

Ashli Hendricks

I have Hermione-Granger-like sweat for structure.

It might stem from the eternal frustration I felt growing up in Germany where my parents would mill through Oktoberfest for three hours on the off chance they’d snag a beer. Or on aimless ambles through golf courses across Ireland when I’d ask through gritted teeth just where we were going and my parents would respond they didn’t know.

To me, there was no bigger annoyance than proceeding without procedure.

Being in Denmark, I’ve wondered how rigid discipline has helped and hindered me as an Army brat. My life was a blend of my dad’s stern enforcement of “Yes, sirs” and “No, ma’ams,” and then utter free-for-all when he was deployed. It was a perplexing blend of strict adherence to rules, shredding them, and then sticking the pieces back together on his returns.

My first full day in Copenhagen, everyone who attended orientation was let loose on an “Amazing Race” scavenger hunt of Danish landmarks with whoever was sitting nearest to them. We were given a map and a list and no instruction as to how to work transportation systems.

Throughout both sessions, my classes lacked “structure,” with projects, dates, and times subject to change on a whim. Discussions were guided by our own questions and observations, not a bulleted agenda of material.

Denmark mandated flexibility with both compliance and complete apathy.

As I learned more about its education system in Children with Special Needs, my first class session, it became clear why.

I visited a Danish playground where a guide explained the concept of children playing for their own sake and not shouting “look at me, look at me” to their parents for some sense of approval or reward. She chided the American need for being seen and recognized.

In every preschool I visited, there were tiny people roaming around the giant overlap of parks, completely unguided and well hidden by huge hedges. These kids have privacy. There is an implicit trust and respect for children to be their own keepers. Or even beekeepers. There was a beehive well within their range, and it wasn’t even the most “dangerous” possibility. There were kids climbing to the top of a basketball hoop or clinging to the triangular roof of a small hut. There were boys swinging long wooden boards at each other and rocking back and forth on scraps of plastic bigger than themselves. Those areas were designed to look like nature, but they looked like junkyards or lumber mills. And there were maybe one or two adults somewhere in the vicinity.

My classmates whispered so many utterances of “Oh no!” that the Kool-Aid guy could have burst through at any moment.

But the kids were so imaginative and comfortable, completely free from having the rules of their army games dictated by an adult’s idea of safety or fun. They weren’t little Tasmanian devils tearing through life, just little people entitled to their own rights and ownership of what interests them. They weren’t preparing for adulthood, they were there for themselves, developing their senses of who that might be without the restrictions of “not supposed to.” The child makes their own assessment about who they are, what they want, and what they’re capable of, on no real schedule but theirs.

If they felt like seeing a giraffe that day, they piled onto a train with their teachers to the zoo without weeks of pre-planned permission forms.

Danes believe a kid deserves a bigger decision than sock color or which direction their sandwich slice is angled.

These heathens leave their babies to nap in carriages on the porch while they’re inside. In the winter, even. From infancy, independence is prized, and I realized for the land of the free, America sure seemed finicky in its youth’s freedoms. There’s no anal retention in Danish parenting or pedagogy and it was evident in the four-year-olds confidence with knives and scissors (real ones) and competence in using power tools and fire pits as “toys” that there’s no real danger in that.

Their only secret in being able to do something well is never being told they couldn’t.

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