teacherken on The Finland Phenomenon

I’ve just read teacherken’s EducationPolicyBlog piece on the film, “The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System.” I haven’t seen the film, and I probably won’t go out of my way to do so now that I’ve read teacherken’s account.

Ken first lists what he takes away with him from the film. Then following some discussion of the take-aways, he goes on to share with us thoughts and opinions of his own sparked by the film, that which for me was the most interesting part of his piece.

Ken liked or at least was drawn to what he learned about the Finnish students working in groups to solve real world problems, and he especially seemed attracted to what he saw as a Montessori connection, where a key emphasis is placed on the interest of the student, the teacher being more a facilitator and learner right along with her students.

Ken tells us that the Finns, beginning in the 1970s over a period of several decades, totally and successfully reformed their own educational system. Whereas, as we, as he reminds us, by a nearly endless series of reforms, going back at least to A Nation at Risk in 1983, have done little or nothing to improve our schools, with too many of our students not learning to swim and barely able to tread water during all that time.

Overall, Ken likes what the Finns have done. Education in Finland, is, as he tells us, much more conducive to producing the citizenry necessary for the sustaining of a democratic government than what we are currently doing in the United States.

I often wonder if we’re doing anything at all in this regard. I question just how much in our schools, not to mention in our homes, with notable exceptions of course, we’re sustaining, let alone promoting and strengthening democratic government.

Among his conclusions :  If we learn nothing else from the Finns it ought to be the importance of giving students the opportunity to explore their own interests. I guess I already knew this. There is little in my own writing on education that doesn’t speak to this.

If we learn nothing else from the Finns it ought to be the sheer wongheadedness of mandating sameness from the top down, a national social studies curriculum for example. And that our predominantly test-based accountability system, rejected by the Finns, is no less wrong-headed.

We’re acting, our national government is acting, as if there were no other meaningful measure or validation of student learning.

Actually for most of what Ken tells us the Finns are doing we know the rightness of it. But we don’t know how to transfer to our own schools the good practices we observe in theirs. For example, we know, as Ken points out, the importance of properly selecting and preparing teachers. “Yet for all our verbiage on the importance of teachers, somehow the policies we implement seem to work contrary to that stated goal.”

In Ken’s own words, “Is what Finland has accomplished really all that surprising? It shouldn’t be. That the word ‘surprising’ is part of the title of the film speaks more to what is wrong in our approach to education than it does to what is outstanding in Finland.”

One thought on “teacherken on The Finland Phenomenon”

  1. Philip,

    You raise good points.

    Finland story is complicated. A dominant feature, in my mind, is they reject most people who want to be teachers. We don’t. We set very low bar.

    Also, there are low-performing nations that are like Finland in policies. Meanwhile, there are high-performing nations like Singapore which have different policies (like top-down curricula).

    Many folks simply reject aspects of the Finland narrative that fit they preferred policies.

    Imagine if charter school supporters pointed to a homogenous white charter school and proclaimed it as The Answer. Folks like Ken would, I bet, hoot with derision. “Nothing to learn here.”

    Yet they embrace Finland….


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