Previous posts in this discussion:
PostConfirmatory Bias and Its Dangers to Democracy (Henry Levin, USA, 02/17/19 4:02 am)
I think that the standard terminology for what John E calls "observer bias" is confirmatory bias. See: Lee, J. K., Choi, J., Kim, C., & Kim, Y (2014) "Social media, network heterogeneity, and opinion polarization," Journal of Communication 64 (4), 702-722.
The social media promote the targeting of information to reinforce confirmatory bias and close minds to other perspectives. It is a particular challenge to the societal need to create democracy among the young where it is becoming more and more difficult to expose the young to a common set of values and democratic roles of civic participation.
I published a short piece this past year on which I have been receiving sympathetic responses. School choice is a good response to private goals of families in accommodating their children, a theme emphasized by charter schools and other forms of school choice. But it is incomplete without a common experience that prepares the young to embrace their rights and responsibilities of a democratic society. Babies are not born to democracy. Making the transition from narrow self-interest to civic participation focused on the "public good" is a serious social challenge (witness Hungary at this moment), which is undermined by public schooling based upon political ideology, religion, cultural, and philosophical beliefs that undermine the commonweal rather than forming one.
I have written this concern in the context of the charter school movement, just seven pages and a bibliography: "Charter Schools: Rending or Mending the Nation."
JE comments: Henry Levin's "Rending or Mending" is a chapter in Iris Rotberg and Joshua L. Glazer (eds), Choosing Charters: Better Schools or More Segregation? (2018). Drop me a line if you're interested, and I'll send you the file with Hank's essay.
Is education today undermining the commonweal instead of forming one? With this pointed question, Hank reminds us (powerfully) that education is not just about instilling STEMy stuff. It's a vital part of constructing functional societies.
UK's "Academies": Charter Schools Across the Pond?
(John Heelan, UK
02/18/19 3:28 AM)
Henry Levin asked on February 17th: "Is education today undermining the commonweal instead of forming one?"
Good question! UK experience is that capitalism is gradually infiltrating the UK educational system. One of the legacies of the Bliar Administration has been the creation of academies supported by (supposedly) charitable foundations. Today's reality is that those charitable foundations are faux-capitalist enterprises aimed at diverting taxpayer funds to the profitability of private companies--sometimes owned by the managers of the "trusts" (sic) themselves.
The net result is that at the secondary level, teachers have their workloads increased dramatically and are generally under-resourced. One of my grandsons has direct experience of this trend in an inner-city school. At the tertiary level, university chancellors, deans and vice-chancellors have scrambled onto the lucrative band wagon--sometimes earning substantially higher salaries that the UK's Prime Minister.
The whole UK educational system now has a whiff of corruption and "jobs for the boys." (Luckily my own education was funded by scholarships and government grants.)
JE comments: It's no different here, except most American don't know what the word "tertiary" means. We call it Higher Ed or more directly, College.
Are the "academies" direct calques of US charter schools? If so, is one of the goals in the UK to undermine the previously powerful teacher unions?
- The Finnish Education Model (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 03/10/19 6:51 PM)
Many thanks for sending the chapter on charter and public schools by Henry Levin (February 17th). In reviewing it some observations came to my mind:
I was primarily interested in the school choice movement. As usual, I enjoyed Henry's posting as well as the chapter with a description of the conflicts between the educational goals of parents and those of society as a whole. Those values tend to be moral or religious in the case of parents, and about democratic principles and civic rights and obligations in the case of society.
Hereto, it is worth remembering Henry's words when we ask ourselves what the function of public education is: "The public goal of education must focus on sustaining an accepted political process that transcends issues so that members of society can work together productively, despite their private differences."
Many Americans recognize a simple three-tier stratification of society that includes the upper class, the middle class, and the lower or working class. This separation in terms of income has the upper middle class separating, slowly but surely, from the rest while the majority lags behind. Gaps are growing on a whole range of dimensions, including family structure, education, lifestyle, and geography.
In a country with significant and increasing inequality that is divided by political ideas, religious belief, seIf-interest, income, and with a heterogeneous population, it does not come as a surprise that education is also divided. Social scientists offer competing models of class structure, and most agree that society is stratified, among other factors, by educational attainment.
Regarding public versus charter schools: unfortunately, the division starts at the US Department of Education, where the current secretary and champion of the charter schools system--a billionaire who never attended a public school, and a major donor of the Republican Party--is involved in changing today's education landscape without addressing the need to improve public education that serves the majority of the population. Is her intention to replace it with publicly paid-for private schools? What improves the situation of a part cannot be a solution for the whole. There is always a risk of being satisfied with delivering substandard education in resource-limited settings, assuming that offering some education is better than no education. "No man can be a good citizen unless he has an education and a wage more than sufficient to the bare cost of living" (Teddy Roosevelt, August 31, 1910).
Since context matters, "it would be interesting to see a study of the number and kinds of charter schools in upper-middle class neighborhoods because I doubt that parental support for local public school has weakened in those districts. These parents know to get things done for their children in a safe environment that can fight off the charter schools grab for tax dollars."*
Irrespective of the school system, it is important to start early; the low quality of those coming in from primary and secondary schools requires the universities to provide "corrective" courses. Then, the curricula have not enough room for new knowledge, reducing the benefits of affirmative action. Look for a model that is more open, more balanced, more equitable and more beneficial to all.
Lessons from the Finnish System: An interesting example that would be problematic to apply in America where collective projects are difficult to implement due to the size of the country, heterogeneity of the population and the different rules and regulations among states.
Finland is a prosperous state among the best in most of World Economic Forum indexes, with six percent of GDP invested in education.
• Equal Society: Low income inequality (low Gini coefficient), closing the gap raises the standard.
• Integration of industry and universities.
• The best do not compete, they collaborate. Teaching is a team effort. Good schools for each child.
• Strong correlation between student's success and family upbringing.
• Autonomy over curricula and assessments to improve quality and to find talents.
Context and local circumstances: the combination of strong welfare state, market economy and civic engagement work together in a plus-sum game make the difference. Pasi Sahlberg. Former Finland Minister of Education. Lecture at Harvard Kennedy School, April 24, 2014.
"The discussion doesn't need to be Public versus Charter but rather a philosophical one. What does our society (or the parents) want their children to achieve? How do we measure success? As long as we continue to measure success by how much stuff our children will be able to collect over their lifetime, we will continue to create unsatisfied, anxious future citizens of one of the richest countries in the world, who will continue to consume antidepressants and anxiolytics at a record-setting pace and suicide rate among the "successful" will continue to climb, whether they went to public, charter or private schools." **
In conclusion, there is a need to modernize teaching because there is a gap between what education systems provide and what employers need. New technologies have altered people's work and lives, pressing reformers to say that the traditional curriculum is not adequate.
Authorities need to identify what skills are necessary for students to succeed in careers and personal lives, and then modernize their curriculums. Asking teachers to focus on a list of poorly defined skills is not enough.
I thank Gil Davis*, Emeritus professor of Languages and English Literature and Marcelo Cardarelli MD, MPH ** for their valuable input.
JE comments: We just got off the long flight from Santiago to Toronto, hence today's silence on WAIS. A thousand apologies for the delays, but things will return to normal by tomorrow and Tuesday.
Great to hear from Rodolfo Neirotti. Rodolfo, what specific lessons can be learned from Finland? And what concrete steps would you implement for curriculum reform? The devil is always in the details.
Educational Lessons from Finland
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
03/12/19 4:20 AM)
I echo Rodolfo Neirotti's statements on education (March 10th). More specifically, I endorse two of his points:
The Finns seem to really have their act together on education. I could watch family life and education for the few times I visited their country to work with partners at some of their universities, and I was left with an excellent impression of the whole society. I was involved in more depth with their PhD programs in Information Systems (IS) and was quite impressed with the government-universities partnership which we don't seem to have as strongly in the US. Their partnership decided to quickly grow IS knowledge and skills (perhaps building on the old Nokia dominance in cell phones), so they sent their professors to the US and brought the foreign experts in. The process was similar to what China did in the beginning of their industrial/technological revolution, but I thought the Finns were more effective and carried much of the cost themselves.
Rodolfo stated, "there is a need to modernize teaching because there is a gap between what education systems provide and what employers need. New technologies have altered people's work and lives, pressing reformers to say that the traditional curriculum is not adequate."
My impression is that in general American or global companies are interested primarily in short-term profit (mostly quarter-to-quarter increases for Wall Street's sake). The last thing they might want is to worry about is cooperation with educators to help future citizens. I know some good managers do cooperate and give generously of their time, but obviously that is not enough. Our government is not there to shepherd the cooperation. Science and education are apparently not important. Teddy Roosevelt's words, "No man can be a good citizen unless he has an education and a wage more than sufficient to the bare cost of living," are widely considered today as rampant socialism, therefore un-American. Instead we are more interested in stamping out homosexuality and abortion.
JE comments: Tor, tell us more specifics about your experience with the Finnish universities. The Finns may have a model educational system, but they are not known as a particularly happy people. (Their suicide rate is higher than in the US, according to the info below.) My Polish sister-in-law Justyna studied for a year in Finland, and found them to be a very dour nation, prone to alcoholism. Perhaps these are unrelated factors.
Appraising the Finns
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
03/13/19 2:04 PM)
John E said this about the Finns: "Finland may have a model educational system, but they are not known as a particularly happy people. (Their suicide rate is higher than in the US.)"
I did detect a shade of... sadness? melancholy? overall. Perhaps we can blame the midnight sun for their sadness. The Swedes also have high suicide rates. Norwegians always seemed more aggressive and less sad to me, even before they became so oil rich. Another thing, I believe Finns are in general quite serious about life (perhaps they have tangled with the Russians too many times) and perhaps that is why they have a good quality of life. Not too much nonsense going on. They take care of business first, then comes entertainment. That is just my impression. As to drinking too much, give me a break. Most Northern peoples drink way too much. It's a cultural trait.
A few specifics regarding my work with the Finnish universities, I was brought in for the first time by Turku University to spill the beans about what I thought was important to successfully manage IT to enhance business innovation. But the Finnish universities were working quite closely, so at my presentations faculty from other universities were present. My wife and I went all over Finland all the way to Rovaiemi, hoping to personally meet Santa.
Another thing I really enjoyed about the Finns is that they seemed to have good balance between working hard on something and being sociable. They were always friendly, the higher-ups were very kind and some were extremely charming. Like most people they try to keep work and personal life separately, but after work many times we dined with a family. To me and my wife it was a delightful experience.
Some years earlier, I almost took an endowed chair to do research in Sweden. It was a joint position created by two universities. I really wanted to go but my wife and kids were scared and put a stop to my dream. This first visit to Finland some months later made my wife change her mind and agree to move. Of course, it was too late.
A few years later and much cooperative work done the Finns were kind enough to offer me a job, but I could not take it because the American-Finnish salary difference was close to a third. So here I have been.
JE comments: With lower salaries and a (much) higher cost of living, how do Finnish academics get by? A deeper social net only goes so far.
The Finns are a tiny people (not physically of course, but in numbers) who have been dominated by Russia and before that, Sweden. This legacy could have resulted in post-colonial dysfunction, but the Finns have prospered. Is it pluck? The rousing anthems of Sibelius? Or...an emphasis on education?
Drinking with the Finns
(John Heelan, UK
03/15/19 3:27 AM)
Tor Guimaraes's comment of March 13th brought back two Finland memories.
Guesting as a lecturer on strategic thinking in IT, I once had to give that lecture in a sauna where all my students were recovering from a party the previous night. The other memory is of a large Finnish friend whose Viking genes were obvious. We were drinking in an hotel bar when his stentorian voice demanded "More Wodka!" "More Wodka--now!"
As to the perils of "Wodka," I dined in a good Russian restaurant in Helsinki with a French friend, so we were tempted to try some of the vodkas on the drinks list. Maybe we tried too many because when we stood up, the room swayed a bit.
JE comments: I've taught in all sorts of challenging environments, but a sauna? John, if I may pry, what was, er, the "dress code"?
Prof. Hilton would not have approved: "Gentlemen will wear jackets and ties..."
With the Finns, Shake Off Those Stereotypes!
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
03/15/19 11:55 AM)
I find it odd that anyone thinks that Finns are "unhappy." I am spending about half my time in Finland these days, and I don't find them unhappy at all. Like the Germans, they don't have the same sense of humor some other of us find in other nations (like the Brits or the Russians), so they seem reserved, overly serious, and slow to us (they appear that way even to themselves). But unhappy? I would never say that. In fact last year a UN report named Finland as the happiest country in the world:
As to how they get by on their salaries--well, their material standard of life is actually quite good. Their salaries have greatly increased in the last 20 years and are not so much behind those in the US, as far as I can tell. Certainly it is very expensive to hire a Finnish person, as I am experiencing painfully. The Finns pay low corporate income and capital gains taxes, and entrepreneurship is favoured in many ways, including the possibility of having two years of your previous salary paid by the state, in case you leave a job to start a new business. They pay relatively high income taxes, but these taxes are not actually so high when you consider that about half of them are paid directly to your municipality which delivers concrete services for that money, services which most of the rest of us pay for out of our savings. Health care is very good (so good that unlike in the UK, there is little demand for private health care), covers everyone, and is almost free, education is free, including in any private school of your choice, so a much greater proportion of your income is actually disposable. Housing is very high quality indeed, and is far cheaper than in most of the rest of the developed world, and particularly places like the UK, and is not in shortage even in Helsinki. Finland has a highly developed merchant building industry, and Finland has an enlightened pro-growth city planning process which ensures that there is an adequate supply of land for the production of new housing. Most Finns have country houses besides their principle residences--they have exactly the same dacha culture as the Russians.
In short, Finland, despite various economic challenges which hit the country one after the other (the collapse of Nokia; sanctions on Russia; collapse of the paper industry) is a remarkably successful society, lacking a whole list of problems which plague many other European countries, and is altogether a great place to live.
The suicide rate in Finland is actually almost exactly the same as the US (13.8 per 100,000 in 2016 vs 13.7), and Sweden is now 11.7, below France and not that much more than Ireland (10.9).
All data from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate#List_by_the_World_Health_Organization_(2016)
So, shake off those stereotypes!
JE comments: Yes, Cameron, debunking assumptions is what WAIS does best! Kiitos. Next up, a guest post on Finland's education system, thanks to Hank Levin (and his colleague at Columbia, Sam Abrams).
- Finland's Sauna Culture (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/18/19 3:45 AM)
A good introduction to Finnish sauna culture is here:
This culture is shared with Russians, who have almost identical customs, and goes back to ancient times. The Russian word for sauna is banya, which means basically "bath," which is a clue that sauna/banya is the prototypical bathing process on those countries. English people visiting Russia in the middle ages often remarked on the barbaric Russian practice of bathing almost every day! When in Western Europe baths were taken as seldom as once a year. The impression of barbarism of course was mutual.
Like many Russians and Finns, I have a separate banya at my dacha, a separate small building of logs (virgin pine logs brought from Siberia), with the parilka or hot room heated by a log fire in a furnace accessible from the other side of the wall. Next to the parilka is a wet room, with a drain in the middle of it, a large oaken barrel full of ice cold water, and a shower which sprays right onto the floor--the whole room is "wet." Then there is a small kitchen and a small room with three couches arranged around a big fireplace where in winter, you rest and cool down between the hot phases (in the winter, you might roll naked in the snow before that).
The whole process is an exquisite purifying ritual, lasting several hours, almost a religious experience, and indeed the Finns often say that one should behave in sauna, as if in church. Alcohol has no place in a proper sauna/banya, nor do clothes (to answer John's question), which get checked at the entrance as guns used to get checked when one entered a saloon.
Nudity is not entirely casual--families bathe all together, same sex friends do so without a thought, even same-sex strangers in a public sauna. Strangers of opposite sex do not typically bathe together, but might. Friends of opposite sex might bathe together, but more typically a mixed-sex group of friends will break up by sex and bathe women first, then men, etc.
The Finnish Tourist Board site I linked above says that sex has no place in sauna, but that is not entirely true. It was an ancient Russian tradition that husband and wife would bathe together at least weekly before making love in their banya while the children were busy with something else--a tradition which must have continued for some time, as it is depicted in Mikhailkov's movie Burnt By the Sun. I have never heard of this practice in Finland, but considering the apparently total commonality of bathing culture in Russia and Finland, this must have been practiced there as well. I do know that the sauna was where all Finnish women gave birth, before the development of the public health system, and in both Russian and Finland, babies were born, and often people were taken to die, in the banya/sauna.
Typical furniture of a sauna or banya goes back to pre-indoor plumbing days and includes buckets and barrels which might be used in case water is brought from a well or lake, as if those were fond memories. Rain barrels are common, as rain water is thought to be best for washing in.
Incidentally the "wet room" part of the Russian banya, survives today in Finnish domestic architecture, although it no longer exists in Russia except in the banya. Finnish bathrooms are to this day mostly arranged like that--no shower cabin, no bathtub, just a shower head on the wall which sprays out right on the floor. The room is very generous in size compared to our bathrooms, even in quite modest homes, as if bathing is not a process one wants to do in cramped, ungenerous space. Even in quite modest Finnish homes, the bathroom may be equipped with a small sauna.
JE comments: I thought I knew my saunas, but the birthing, dying, and love-making facets of the culture are new to me. (All three of the above, as well as the intense heat itself, can take a toll on the ol' ticker.)
Cameron Sawyer mentions how Western visitors to Russia were shocked by the bathing culture. Christians had the same reaction to the Muslim baths in Spain and elsewhere, as well as to the Mexica/Aztec baths in Mexico. There's a book to be written here. My working title: Filthiness is Next to Godliness.
Fast Finns: Bottas, Raikkonen (from Ric Mauricio)
(John Eipper, USA
03/18/19 11:49 AM)
Ric Mauricio writes:
On the subject of Finns, congratulations to Valtteri Bottas for winning the Australian GP yesterday, the first race of the season. My favorite driver, Kimi Raikkonen, came in 8th. That's pretty good, considering he is in a car that is not expected to do as well as a Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull Honda.
But addressing Cameron's comment that Finns may appear "overly serious, somewhat reserved and slow," I would venture to say that Kimi is not slow and I love his sense of humor.
Here are a few examples from Kimi: "I read somewhere that I drive with the luck of a drunk." Interviewer: "The most exciting moment during the race weekend?" Kimi: "I think it's the race start, always." Interviewer: "The most boring?" Kimi: "Now." Interviewer: "Do you have any special rituals when the helmet is concerned like many have?" Kimi: "I wipe it so that I can see better." "Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing," in response to his race engineer continuously telling him about the race.
JE comments: Kimi-isms? And what is the deal with Flying Finns? Has any nation so small produced so many top-level drivers? To Bottas and Raikkonen, still active in Formula I, we should add veterans Mika Hakkinnen and Keke Rosberg, both world champions. And the Finns dominated World Rallying for years, until the sport was taken over by guys named Sébastien from France.
One theory: Finns learn to master icy roads, which teaches car control. But perhaps this is a weak theory, as Michiganders never learn to drive in the snow.
Finn Finale: Why Do Finns "Fly"? (from Ric Mauricio)
(John Eipper, USA
03/25/19 2:11 PM)
Ric Mauricio writes:
Are we truly finnished with discussing the Finns?
JE asked why such a small nation (geographically and demographically) could produce so many champions in Formula I. John's theory of Finns mastering icy roads also came up in my mind as a reason.
But that outsize production of champions is even more pronounced when comparing to other nations. Ten drivers from the UK have produced 18 titles, including the current champion, Lewis Hamilton with 5. Sterling Moss was greatest driver never to win a world championship. Wee Scotland is included and produced my earliest favorite driver, Jim Clark and the driver most responsible for more safety standards in F1, Jackie Stewart. So although the UK is small in size geographically compared to other nations, it has produced the most champions.
But per capital (population), the Finns are the most productive, hands down. They have 3 champions producing 4 championships. One can even argue there is a 4th Finn, Nico Rosberg, son of Kiki, but since he had to choose only one nation and was born in Germany, he chose Germany. Thus Germany has 3 champions producing 12 championships, which of course, includes 7-time champion, Michael Schumacher and 4-time champion, Sebastian Vettel as well as Nico. Germany, of course, is a bigger country and produces the Mercedes engines and teams (although, it is headquartered in the UK).
A country that has produced 3 champions and 8 championships is Brazil, including the great Ayrton Senna. One could combine Argentina with Brazil to discuss Latin American champions. So the addition of 5-time world champion Argentine Juan Manual Fangio (he won 50% of his races) would have Latin America at 4 champions and 13 championships.
What really surprised me is Italy, with 2 champions and 3 championships. Home to the great Ferrari team (as well as Maserati and Lamborghini), the first championship was won by Giuseppe Farina in 1950 and the last Italian to win a championship was Alberto Ascari in 1953. Eugenio, how can Italy produce the greatest racing car in F1 and yet not have an Italian champion in 65 years?
The US has only 2 champions with 2 championships. I met Phil Hill, who won the championship in 1961. He was just walking around at the Car Show and I recognized him and said hello and talked for a few minutes. Nice guy. Then there is Mario Andretti, who won in 1978. I guess Italy could claim him, since he was born in Italy. Mario's son, Michael tried, but it proved too much strain on his family life, so didn't quite happen. Besides, we have the similar open wheel racing in the IndyCar series, including the Indianapolis 500.
Another surprise is that Spain has only 1 champion with 2 championships. Fernando Alonso.
Well, I guess we are now finnished discussing the Finns. Hei sitten.
JE comments: Finns are never finite, Ric! A couple of days ago Michael Sullivan wrote to point out the recent collapse of the Finnish government. The center-right PM, Juha Sipilä, resigned after failing to achieve reforms on health care. New elections will be held on April 14th. And WAIS will be watching.
Finns are funn.
- Finland's Tango Mania (Leo Goldberger, USA 03/18/19 12:22 PM)
Perhaps a little-known feature of Finland is the unexpected popularity of the Tango (see link for an upcoming tango festival there):
From my visits--albeit some years ago-- I recall large commercial dance halls in Helsinki where men lined up against the wall facing the array of women on the other side as dance partners that were chosen (first come, first served) at the sound of a whistle. The men were screened for alcoholic breath and required to dance at an arms length from their partner.
My Finnish psychiatrist-friend explained that this sort of potential
"dating site" was the only venue in which a Finn might make contact in
approaching the opposite sex--unless, of course, he had hit the bottle
No doubt doing the tango would add to the overall happiness
index, though the relatively high suicide rate in Finland is still
quite troubling and might well be connected with the stress of
loneliness and social contact issues that some Scandinavian
psychiatrists have suggested as being quite prevalent in their
respective countries--rather than simply the cold climate that has often
been invoked as causal in some way.
JE comments: Suomi Tango, who would have thunk it? The festival is in September, so there's still time to work on your steps. I just learned that the host city, Tampere (pop. 240,000), is the largest non-coastal city in any of the Nordic nations.
So good to hear from you, Leo!
- Lecturing in a Sauna (John Heelan, UK 03/18/19 4:22 AM)
John E asked about my experience of lecturing in a Finnish sauna.
The dress code was a towel strategically placed to maintain modesty. However, I had problems using flip charts as they soon got saturated by the steam. Thankfully, I stood on my dignity and refused to run outside naked and roll in the snow as post-sauna tradition demands!
JE comments: You're a hero, John. I've been teaching for 30+ years, but never in a towel. In today's workplace climate, I'd be hauled before HR if I did.
- Finland's Success in Education; from Sam Abrams (Columbia U) (Henry Levin, USA 03/16/19 7:02 AM)
My colleague Sam Abrams is an expert on Finland with a background in French history and a Finnish wife. He is an expert on educational policy and Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia and the author of a recent book on that topic published by Harvard University Press.
Enclosed is his commentary on Finnish education in response to a number of us:
I was asked by my colleague Henry Levin to chime in.
In the final chapter of a book I wrote about market forces in public education, entitled Education and the Commercial Mindset (Harvard University Press, 2016), I analyzed the Finnish system in detail. Some of this chapter is available online as an excerpt published by Stanford Social Innovation Review.
The reflexive critique of citing Finland as a system to emulate is that the country is homogeneous, egalitarian, and small. Yet the same can be said of the other Nordic nations. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland are likewise homogeneous, egalitarian, and small. Yet Finnish students have scored about 0.5 standard deviations above their Nordic peers on PISA. For example, as I explain in the excerpt, over the first five administrations of PISA, students in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden together averaged a 494 in science. Finnish students averaged a 550. The mean was about 500 for all OECD nations.
Incidentally, US students, as I note, averaged a 496 in science, which should give pause to the alarmists who've been dumping on the quality of US schools since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983. We have good schools and bad schools and on average produce results akin to those produced by Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
What I found to be basic to understanding the distinction of the Finnish system is twofold: economic necessity and nation-building. In this regard, John Eipper's mention of Finnish "pluck" is quite germane. The Finns have a specific term for such pluck: sisu, which means blind determination (in this regard, a ship in the country's fleet of icebreakers is appropriately named Sisu).
If Finland wanted to join the modern world, it had to invest in education and do so with determination. Under the Swedes from 1323 to 1809 and then the Russians until 1917, Finland emerged only recently from centuries of foreign rule and started out poor and under-developed. In education, Finland was far behind its Nordic neighbors. Denmark introduced compulsory schooling in 1814, Norway in 1827, and Sweden in 1842. Finland did not do so until 1921. While Denmark, Norway, and Sweden had comprehensive social insurance systems by the 1930s, Finland had nothing but workers' accident insurance until 1963. In terms of per-capita GDP, Finns earned only 63 percent as much as their Swedish counterparts in 1950.
Given that Finland is poor in natural resources (with little more than timber), policymakers concluded in the 1960s that they had to develop their human capital, which, in turn, meant vastly improving their schools. In 1972, they determined that all teacher training would take place at research universities and that all teachers from 1979 forward would have a master's degree before taking over a classroom. No other Nordic country requires that teachers have a master's degree. Policymakers in 1972 also introduced a comprehensive approach to schooling in grades 1-9 (called peruskoula), infused with courses in art, music, and crafts. The Swedes had done something similar a decade earlier but failed to follow through on a commitment to reform teacher training.
Policymakers followed up with additional reforms. With the introduction of peruskoula in 1972, policymakers postponed tracking from grade 5 to grade 7. In 1985, tracking was postponed from grade 7 to grade 10. Teachers went on strike, contending that differentiated instruction for large classes was unrealistic and that teacher pay regardless had to climb. The teachers won on both fronts: smaller classes and better pay were both won. Smaller classes, in particular, appear to explain a good deal of the effectiveness of science instruction in Finland: classes are typically capped at 16 students so labs may be conducted with appropriate supervision.
In 1991, the Education Ministry abolished its inspectorate, giving principals and teachers much more autonomy, and nullified the practice of grade retention, deeming it too stigmatizing to be effective.
The abolition of the inspectorate comported with another distinctive aspect of Finnish education. Unlike Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, which administer standardized tests to all students in mother tongue, math, English, and science at regular intervals, Finland tests only 10 percent of ninth-graders in two or three subjects per year and in this manner covers every subject in the curriculum (from mother tongue to civics, geography, music, and culinary arts) over a ten-year period. Finland also tests a cohort of third-graders in math and later tests the same cohort in sixth, ninth, and twelfth grade.
The Finns find this light approach to testing more effective for several reasons: the tests cost less to administer, consume little time, and cause less stress; and as high-quality tests, they provide policymakers significant feedback. It should be added that the Finns can get away with this light approach to assessment for two reasons: because of their excellent training, teachers internalize national expectations; and because of a battery of matriculation exams seniors must take to enter university, teachers and students alike are guided by national expectations (all students take at least four exams: in Finnish, Swedish, math [level 1 or 2], and either one subject in humanities or science).
The better prep and pay of teachers, the broad curriculum to enfranchise a wide range of students, and the intelligent approach to assessment go a long way in explaining the distinction of Finnish schooling. But it must be understood that teachers in Finland are more than teachers. They're in essence servants of an earnestly patriotic cause.
This is not true in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. After all, Finland, again, is a young nation that emerged only recently from centuries of foreign rule. In addition, Finland suffered terrible losses in World War II: 90,000 killed, many more wounded, 10 percent of its eastern territory lost to the Soviets, 450,000 of its people from that territory forced to resettle, and reparations owed to the Soviets till 1952. While Denmark and Norway suffered as occupied nations and while Sweden suffered as a neutral nation amid a war zone, these countries emerged from the war in far better shape. This cause of nation building has, of course, remained acute with Russia a hostile neighbor.
Given that PISA was first administered in 2000, one could fairly conclude that we can't be very sure that the reforms implemented by the Finns in 1972, 1985, and 1991 made a significant difference. But the OECD provides us with a compelling response to that assertion. In 2012, the OECD began administering PIAAC (the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies). Finns aged 25-34 did far better than their Nordic and US peers in math and reading. However, Finns aged 55-64 did worse. The first cohort benefited from these reforms. The second did not.
JE comments: A very informative essay from Sam Abrams--my thanks to be Sam (and to Hank Levin for reaching out). Sam taught me a lot. For starters, I always "bundled" the Scandinavian nations together when it comes to educational success. How many of us knew that the Finnish model is significantly more effective than Denmark-Sweden et al? Finland shows that advances in human capital are not accidental. They require visionary thinking at the highest levels and meaningful investment.
Good salaries and small class sizes--Yessir!
Sisu: The Finnish Way (from Gary Moore)
(John Eipper, USA
03/19/19 4:15 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
The very effective nations-compared WAIS thread on Finland
(begun, I think, by Tor Guimaraes and others, then wonderfully
expanded by Cameron Sawyer and others) finally rang a strange
bell from my childhood, with the valuable culmination as Henry Levin
brought in expert Sam Abrams on Finnish educational excellence.
The bell was rung by Sam's mention of sisu, the quintessentially
Finnish word meaning, as I gather it: you get it done no matter what.
Somehow as a child watching TV I had been transfixed by a grainy
documentary about the Winter War of 1939, where Finnish
underdog courage gave us the term "Molotov cocktail," as used
against Soviet tanks. On TV, the correspondent telling the story gazed
grimly at the screen and said something like: "The Finns have a word
for this--sisu." He said the word meant "guts"--an apt complement to
Sam Abrams' translation just now: "blind determination." It's an odd
comment on memory and emotion that such a long-ago commentator's
remark could so deeply lodge in my mental archives, to label a niche that
might be called: This is what it's like when you see if you've got what it takes.
Sisu. I didn't know how to spell it, until now.
JE comments: One of the perils of this job--constant distraction by Wikipedia! The article on Molotov cocktails taught me two things. First, the Spanish used petrol bombs in the Civil War before they had their now-universal name. Second, the Finns named their devices in reaction to Soviet claims that they weren't cluster-bombing Finland, but rather dropping food parcels. The Finns called these lethal packages Molotov breadbaskets. The cocktails would help to wash them down.
- VAT in Finland? (Timothy Brown, USA 03/20/19 2:06 PM)
A question in regards to our discussion on Finland.
Does Finland have a VAT as well? During our years in the Netherlands the VAT added 18% to the price of purchases, although it was waived in our case since we had diplomatic credentials. Ditto for France. I don't remember if there was also one in Spain.
JE comments: In the EU, the VAT's where it's at. All nations must imposes a VAT as a condition for membership. Finland has a VAT of 24%, which is on the high side. Europe's top dog? Surprisingly (at least to me), Hungary at 27%.
Just as our Finland discussion was losing steam, Yahoo! and Huff Post stoked the fires of the sauna. This just in today: "Why People in Finland are So Much Happier than Americans":
- What Can We Learn from the Finnish Model? (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 03/16/19 10:11 AM)
John E (10 March) asked two questions that I will try to answer, keeping in mind that American society is not comparable to the Finnish context and it is stratified by occupation, income, educational attainment and quality of health care--all important barriers to attain the Maslow Sets of Needs.
Societies are complex systems that have much in common with other complex structures in which their function depends on the interactions of their multiple individual components. Societies would not be strong if some of their components--such as education--focus on their own immediate narrow interests.
Question 1: What specific lessons can be learned from the Finnish education system? The purpose was to create a system that people are happy with--90% in Finland vs. 29% in the US, when most of the ideas originally come from the USA!
For those interested, the Finnish National Agency for Education draws up the national core curricula for pre-primary education, basic education, general upper secondary education, basic education in the arts, the curricula for preparatory education for immigrants and activities for school children. Local school curricula is based on the national curricula. The page provides useful information on the education system, national curricula, educational development, qualifications and requirements to become a teacher and information about current ongoing reforms to provide better opportunities for students.
As stated in my earlier posting, I do not think that this model is applicable in America due to the different culture, size of the country, heterogeneity of its large population, and the different rules and regulations among states.
Interested parties can find additional information in about Scandinavian societies in the book Civic Engagement in Scandinavia by L. S. Henriksen, K. Stromsnes and L. Svedberg, published by Springer. The book was recently presented by the authors and discussed at the Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. It shows how the social and economic walk hand in hand through volunteering, informal help and giving in Denmark, Norway and Sweden--Scandinavian countries in which governments and civil societies cooperate.
Question 2: What concrete steps would you implement for curriculum reform?
Avoid adapting replicas. Often, models with proven effectiveness in other settings fail to take hold in different settings despite having government support. The name for the practice behind the problem is isomorphic mimicry, which happens when consultants and public officials drop a copy of a proven model into a structure with different problems.
Schools and universities should modernize their curriculum according to individual learning needs rather than the one-size-fits-all approach, adopting educational models that allow adaptation of resources to address local priorities.
Where do we go from here to improve tomorrow? First, what we must preserve. Then, in order to address what we need to improve and what we must transform, it is essential to avoid complacency--that is, feeling satisfied with our situation and believing that we do not need to try harder. Finally, remember that "if we who have the talent and knowledge do not look after the problems ourselves, others who are less talented and more ignorant of those problems will do it for us." --Prof. Francis Fontan, Vienna 1987.
Two recent pieces of bad news that make things worse for the education milieu: 1) The US Federal government announced a significant cut in the budget for education and other public services. 2) A college bribery scam has affected the country's most prestigious colleges and universities. About 50 people (including more than 30 parents) have been indicted in what could become the biggest bribery scandal in college history. Parents paying large sums to get students admitted.
Question to the Editor: can you provide some information about the performance and public satisfaction of the charter schools in Southeast Michigan and the Detroit area?
JE comments: That's a tough one--I cannot provide more than the anecdotal. We receive surprisingly few charter school graduates at Adrian. There may even be more home-school alums in our classes.
The Finnish model seems to strike a delicate balance between national standardization and local autonomy. Somehow it works. But how do you impose (from above) better performance on local decision-makers?
- VAT in Finland? (Timothy Brown, USA 03/20/19 2:06 PM)
- Finland's Tango Mania (Leo Goldberger, USA 03/18/19 12:22 PM)
- Finn Finale: Why Do Finns "Fly"? (from Ric Mauricio) (John Eipper, USA 03/25/19 2:11 PM)
- Finland's Sauna Culture (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/18/19 3:45 AM)
- With the Finns, Shake Off Those Stereotypes! (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/15/19 11:55 AM)
- Drinking with the Finns (John Heelan, UK 03/15/19 3:27 AM)
- Appraising the Finns (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/13/19 2:04 PM)
- The Finnish Education Model (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 03/10/19 6:51 PM)