The Smithsonian: Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?
The article describes the “whatever it takes” attitude of the Finnish system, and throws in some mouth watering stats: 62000 teachers with master’s degrees, selected from the top 10% of the nation’s graduates; 30% of kids get extra help; and Finns routinely rank among the best readers, math students, and, of course, electronica DJs in the whole world.
With that context, everything that is wrong with the Smithsonian article– and by extension American education– is in that very first photo. Oh, look, in a country that is 75% Lutheran and 20% unaffiliated, they managed to find a Muslim girl to put in the photo. How cosmopolitan. How downright inclusive.
This whole article is a cheap trick by an American journalist. “They have immigrants, too! Their model can work here!” No it can’t. It won’t even work there.
It’s become a national pastime to look at the institution– schools, government, parents– and see how it has failed you. But it is much more useful to look at it the other way: you got the institutions you asked for, down to the decimal. Are you satisfied with the school your kid goes to or the school you went to? Probably. Are you satisfied with “American education?” No. So why the disparity?
America spends a lot on education, but it doesn’t spend it intelligently because it isn’t interested in outcomes. It doesn’t particularly care about public schools because Americans don’t care about public schools and they sure as hell don’t care about students. They care about their own kids, agreed, but not about the other little bastards.
Part of that is a human characteristic of hating the “other”, or, at least not particularly caring about the other. Does you school have a lot of others (read: minorities)? Then you spend your money not on educating those minorities, but on getting your own kids the hell out. I don’t fault the parents for considering only their kids, but that doesn’t change the result: Americans don’t care about school.
That school in the article is basically a government funded Apple Store. Look at the pictures, tell me I’m wrong.
Which is great, I’ve learned a lot in Apple stores, but it is completely unreproducible in America for a very specific reason: if it gets destroyed; if it fails to create new electronica DJs; then Americans will become furious that they wasted their money on the “others.” Since that will happen, it isn’t going to be tried. Meanwhile, at the elementary school near where I work, classes start 30 minutes later than normal because 40% of the kids have to go to the school nurse to get their morning meds, and no I don’t mean insulin. 40%. There’s your universal healthcare. There’s where your education funds go.
The Smithsonian article also attaches this handy chart to make you angry:
American education has failed. However, if you consider the data as an American failing not of education but of the other, you get this:
81% for whites is still below the Finn’s 93%, but the again the important failing isn’t of education, per se, but of the “other.” I’m not assigning any blame for this failing, just pointing out that the pretense that American education is failing is wrong. The education system is fine most of the time (College is an other matter entirely.) Something else is failing.
The Finnish system works well in Finland because it is ethnically homogeneous. For the tiny minority of immigrants, Finland is able to devote considerable resources in the name of inclusiveness. That may well change when the figure reaches 30%.
The American system is predicated on diversity, it actually says “Diversity” all over the place. I’m not saying it is better or worse, just that it is sufficiently different from Finland that you can’t compare the systems. You can’t reproduce the Finnish system here because, very simply, Americans don’t want it.
America is a melting pot and has its own unique weaknesses and strengths. But assuming the Finnish model is in any way applicable to the U.S. is– to say this in the nicest possible terms– arrogant white people wishing they could redo their childhood and school years at an Apple store. Yeah, well, me too.