Why does the Finnish public school system work?



Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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117 Responses

  1. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    I absolutely agree with your conclusions re: public education. De-centralization is the answer; allow each state, county, city seek its own method of success, set its own standards grounded on its own traditions.Report

    • Bob – I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with your proposal. Even within smaller locales there is often a wide-range of diversity and challenges. My own county/city school system is a good example. We have areas that are 80% black, areas that are 80% white, areas where the majority of people live near the poverty line and areas where the majority are upper class. In-between are other neighborhoods that are split 50/50 white and black, immigrant communities, etc. And Louisville isn’t that big of a city.

      As I’ve mentioned in other posts, poor kids (and that’s really what the whole education kerfuffle is all about) benefit the most from structure. This is best acheieved with a more, not less centralized system.

      I realize I may be losing my conservative street cred by advocating for central-planning but I also believe the system can be radically stream-lined and that a 3 Rs model is ideal.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Mike, you’ve gotta good point and I’m ambivilent in my reply.
        But, I thought we were over the question of ‘race?’ And, sometime we’re going to have to start acting like it. I think the answer lies in your final sentence which, for me, sounds all sorts of bells and whistles: “….I also believe the system can be radically stream-lined and that a 3 Rs model is ideal.”
        Maybe education’s first objective is to teach all the children, very thorougly, the basics/fundamentals in math, reading, comprehension, and communicatin’. The kids who master this curriculum can move on to languages, higher math, literature, philosophy, rhetoric, etc.(whatever the school district can afford).
        I’m thinking this ‘stream-lined’ curriculum can be managed on a local (state, county) level as well, if not better, than it can on a national level.Report

        • Bob – Race should not be a factor in education policy IMO. Every credible study i have read in the last ten years indicates that economic status is the primary factor that determines student success.

          As for managing a curriculum at the county-level…many, many counties are simply not equipped to do this effectively. Either they have a lack of resources from a low tax base and/or there are ancillary issues that make education a low priority. I believe it’s a moral failing to abandon the children of those locales to a locally-manged school system.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            Mike, I read that a lot e.g. about the ‘economic’ circumstances that ‘limit’ education. Frankly, I think predominately black neighborhoods will do as well as predominately white neighborhoods.
            I would point to those old, single room school houses (we have seven of the old school houses still standing in my Ohio township, alone) that educated kids through 8th grade in the previous century. These kids were rural and poor and all or most seem to have learned to do their numbers, read, write, and understand theology, philosophy, and politics though most were Lincolnites.
            I’m not sure why any place and any people in my country can’t repeat this phenomenon.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              The One Room Schoolhouse had several distinct advantages. Older students often taught younger students: it was a noisy place, often as not. Few formal classes were actually given.

              But the One Room Schoolhouse had severe drawbacks. It was difficult to get age appropriate textbooks and when you could, they were very costly. Science pedagogy was essentially nil. If young people wanted to go on to college, they would have to enroll in the Preparatory Schools to round out their educations before going on to college. Often these were part of the colleges, a sort of launch pad for these undereducated kids.

              You don’t want the One Room Schoolhouse, trust me on this. The Central School is a much better paradigm for educating rural children.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You may very well be right. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was placing my emphasis on teaching the fundamentals and teaching them thoroughly so that the student has them by the end of 8th grade.
                I don’t disagree re: your science, advanced math, and other higher subjects in a ‘central’ bldg. My thought was that would take place following 8th grade where, for example in my area the entire county might house three/four high schools; presently there’s eight or nine. We already have a centralized trade high school in the center of the county and it seems to work well.
                I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think that because of the economic problems and public union strife, we’re going to have to come up with an entirely new educational paradigm and there’s aspects of the past that worked.Report

              • Bob – if you’re talking about school consolidation, I guess there’s a pro there in that you also would get more socio-economic integration with fewer schools. The con could potentially be class size and over-crowding.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Class size depends on where your are. Here in my area its falling and has been since the 60’s. Plus, I thought that the number of students in a class didn’t affect education? Then there’s the question of a society that’s devolved into a secularist mish-mash, a society whose children have no ground…how do you educate them?Report

              • I think class size still causes problems. More than 30 starts to be problematic in a educational setting in middle school or high school.Report

              • Class size isn’t a hard limit.

                You can have 60 stepford children in the same class and you’ll probably be aiight. You can have 10 sociopaths in the same class and you’re probably *not* going to be aiight.

                Somewhere between 20 and 30, given the average mix of kids, you’re going to start having problems just based upon how the personality types are mixed together inside the physical space. If you can’t put the complete goof-offs where they can’t interact with the followers who will snowball, you’ve got a problem.

                But the number of goofballs, followers, and the places you can put them in a classroom vary.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                I once knew a boy who’d been educated over two-way radio in the outback of Australia via a program called School of the Air. That was very long ago, but I suppose the principle is still there.

                Of late, I’ve been blowing my rusty old bugle, ever so tiresomely and repetitively, calling for the automation of rote learning, much as someone might advance through a video game. These I believe you would call Fundamentals.

                Even more sophisticated subject matter might be amenable to this approach. The current “homework” based approach is just awful: it’s an artifact of an outdated approach to pedagogy and the lazy teacher’s route to avoid actual one-on-one tutoring. Every student requires some one-on-one time with his teacher, and not just in the context of being hectored for Not Doing His Homework.

                Am I too quixotic to believe education could be a process of exploration? I reject the premise wherein we ascribe all the problems of education to Economic Problems and Public Union Strife. It’s just mendacious twaddle, fearmongering of the worst sort, an attack on the respectability of teachers and a viciously condescending statement about what we believe to be important in this society. We can afford a first-rate military but not a first-rate educational system.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Measurable “achievement,” especially of the kind that leads to remunerable employment (not sure if that is the kind you mean to limit the category to or not), is only one output from education that might justify societal, and perhaps even public, investment in the endeavor. Others are possible. They include socialization, transmission of a shared set of values and cultural referents (granted, we do try to measure our success at this to some extent, and like other subjects), inculcation of the basics of our political system, among others — all in addition to the most basic function of the education system we have that is an artifact of our industrialized economy, which is to provide a supervised repository for the children of a population required to work away from home to secure the necessities of life.

    There is one more justification for investment in education. Subjective experience. Did you enjoy your education? I did. I haven’t had a more intensive, stimulating learning experience in my life than I did in my public high school, which i believe was a better-than-average for the country, but in no way singularly great, institution. Regardless of the material results that experience has brought me (not much – I’m basically broke and quasi-unemployed), I wouldn’t give up having had that opportunity, and I wouldn’t will that we elect not to provide a comparable experience to anyone to whom we can offer one, who is interested in taking advantage of it.

    I wrote in response to your last post that all institutional political movements in our society have plenty to be concerned about if we conclude that education simply isn’t a means to providing real economic opportunity that breaks the intergenerational cycle of inequality. That lays bare the emptiness of our claim to be a society of equal opportunity when it comes to economic conditions, if not equality of outcome. But even if we come to the conclusion that education as an endeavor isn’t equal to delivering on that claim, that doesn’t mean that education’s value has been refuted. Indeed, it only allows us to re-situate education in our picture of the various functions of our major social endeavors, taking the emphasis off of an expectation for it that was perhaps never realistic in the first place. Perhaps education doesn’t hold the potential to redefine or undo class in our society as we came to hope it might, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is not something worth investing heavily in. It still improves the quality of lives tremendously – perhaps it can do so even more once we relive it of the expectation that it should create economic viability in our population. Perhaps that is the job for other instruments of policy.

    And perhaps radical decentralization is a route to maximizing that improvement. But it is worth noting that, in addition to having far different kinds of populations to work with, Scandanavian education, and European education generally, are different from American education in another way: they are, by comparison, extremely centralized. American education in fact already is quite decentralized — radically so by some comparisons. States are radically free to elect spending-averse legislatures who use exaggerated budget crises to enact draconian cuts to spending on education. These are nevertheless arguably necessary, since states do have to balance budgets; in a more centralized system, the Federal government at least in theory could, in recessionary or slow-growth times, elect to forestall decreases in investment in education, and also preserve valuable employment and spendable income, by using its ability to run deficits to maintain that investment. There is also the question of whether people’s lives are improved when, in a decentralized system, educational authorities determine it is necessary for them to learn that the question of how the varieties of life we see around us came to be is the subject of a major debate among respected scientists divided between two competing, fundamentally different general hypotheses. Leaving aside the remarkable recurrence of the ideal of decentralization in so much conservative thought, nevertheless, it is certainly possible that it also happens to be the right approach to providing the kind of subjective improvement of a person’s experience of the world that I was able to wring out of my time in a centrally-operated public-monopoly school district.

    What I don;t think there can be much doubt about is whether education is an endeavor worth investing in. Even if it can’t solve (or even provide a politically-mollifying fig leaf to cover over) the injustice inherent in the structure of our society, all any of us participating in this forum here need do to appreciate the value of our societal commitment to the educational endeavor, I would argue (since doing so demonstrates in all likelihood that a person was the beneficiary of an education that was nearly as life-improving as mine was if not more so, but also that that improvement needn’t have only an economic dimension) is consult our own experience with education, and consider whether we would wish fewer other people to be able to have a chance to have a similar experience merely because it doesn’t produce “measurable achievement,” and that those who are able to have such experiences will generally be less well-supported by a commitment of resources to help maximize their duration, intensiveness, impact, and value. The question, once asked, should answer itself.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Michael Drew –

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. I should add that your contribution to the other thread really made me think about the broader implications of this view. The final two paragraphs above are my attempt to grapple with the importance of providing educational opportunities despite our inability to overcome certain barriers to student achievement.

      A couple substantive points:

      1) The study that kicked off this discussion – from the Kevin Drum link – seems to indicate that the non-quantifiable benefits of schooling you’re talking about (socialization, transmission of values etc.) are what allow certain students to succeed while others fail miserably. In other words, we’re talking about a cultural deficit that can’t be overcome by the public school system, at least as constituted in the status quo. (As for enjoyment, I’d also note that plenty of people really hate the institutional nature of American public schooling. Jason wrote about this a few months back and I was frankly shocked to discover how many people came out of the woodwork to admit their high school experience was terrible).

      2) Yes, Finnish schools are extremely centralized in certain respects (in other ways, less so – as Erik notes in his original post, teachers have a lot of leeway to modify their curricula on the fly). But the core of my argument is that this is a cosmetic difference that can’t explain the success of the Finnish public school system, which is more plausibly traced back to cultural factors. I admit any program of radical decentralization would probably ignite certain culture war fault lines. Some states may choose simply not to invest in education. But I think allowing these outcomes is a necessary (if unfortunate) result of giving states and localities license to experiment.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will says:

        I appreciate the exchange a great deal; I think you’re doing the exact right kind of thinking. I think the cultural barriers tend to be overstated if we view them as high hurdles to reaching kids in ways that at least allow some of the more residual benefits to take effect, whereas I think those challenges are much more acute when it comes to really building a durable set of useful skills, because that depends much more on diligence in the home environment, which is very dependent on it being secure and supportive of that diligence. I confess I don’t take people with PhDs in French history and others who comment as intelligently as eople do here all that seriously when they claim their educational experience has been unsatisfactory, though of course subjectively if they say it was, it was.

        It did occur to me after saying that other countries tend to be more centralized that a system can be very centralized in some respects while being very decentralized in others, and that seems t be somewhat the case both here and elsewhere. In my mind, this is probably inevitable and desirable; it’s why I tend to resist prescriptions that are so conceptually simple that they can be more or less conveyed in a word. But nevertheless, I still see value in your suggestion that we to try lots of things in lots of places. I think we are doing that in some respects, but I would want to hesitate before agreeing that it should be the universal principle to govern every aspect of public education. My main point in claiming that U.S. schools already are fairly decentralized, and I should have been clearer about this, is that, to the extent we have centralized bureaucracy managing our education system today, it has been built up upon a system that was initially a purely local, decentralized community-based system. I haven’t researched the matter terribly closely, but I think the closer one looks, the more one will find that the extent of state, and certainly federal control over educational practice locally today is less than imagined, and that the fundamentally decentralized nature of the system that the current system was built on persists to an unexpected degree. But that is a suspicion, not an assertion.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Also on decentralization – after laying out the proposal, you enunciate the aim: “and hope that someone, somewhere hits upon a way to overcome cultural barriers to student achievement.” Why? So when someone does, we can re-centralize? Or not? If not, why are we bothering to hope others hit on the model in that case? – it seems like all anyone should do then is focus like hell on getting it right at home. Mr. Cheeks is admirably committed to decentralization as a principle — all the way down and all the way to the time horizon, come what may, it seems (and all will be for the best in that best of all worlds, too!). I’m not clear if you’re clear whether you agree with him or not.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Mr. Drew, I think you’ve made an honest analysis of my position. I really don’t know how de-centralization in education will work but I know that many authors are telling me the current education system doesn’t. While I think de-centralization will help in solving the problem there are a number of other particulars involved in educating human beings. One of them is dealing with the pneumatic aspect of existence in a secular world.Report

      • The biggest problem I see with de-centralization is that you open the door to endless rounds of experimentation guided and implemented by the ‘teaching experts’ and administrative tinkerers that come out of masters of teachign programs across the country. Frankly I am tired of our kids being used as guinea pigs.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Michael Drew says:

      “Re-centralization” implies that there is one, universally-applicable solution to the problems of public education. I don’t believe that’s the case.Report

  4. “Embrace a radically-decentralized approach to public schooling that gives states and localities wide latitude to experiment with students, teachers, and curricula. Forget about national standards, let a thousand flowers bloom, and hope that someone, somewhere hits upon a way to overcome cultural barriers to student achievement.”

    I’ll generally agree with this conclusion no matter where applied. I’ve been pushing it for English education in Japan for quite some time, if only to break the grip incompetent bureaucrats have on the whole system. Unfortunately, Tokyo decided recently to extend the tentacles of standardization from middle schools to elementary schools instead of retracting them despite overwhelming public recognition that overstandardization is a problem. (Japan is not a nation to storm bastilles, so everyone will accept the reforms and the system will continue to deteriorate.)

    Japan seems to be a strong, glaring counterexample to the idea that cultural homogeneity determines the success of a school system. Japan is one of the most culturally homogeneous nations on earth, yet the Japanese education system is a complete nightmare: despite six years of formal education in English most students graduate high school unable to engage in basic conversation at all.

    Now, I’m simplifying this issue considerably, but unless you can explain away glaring Japanese failures in English somehow or Japan represents an extremely special case, which I will emphatically insist it doesn’t, the idea that cultural homogeneity explains the success of various school systems just doesn’t hold. I will admit that the degree of cultural homogeneity is one factor affecting the outcomes of any school system, and clearly cultural pluralism is a barrier to effective teacher-student communication in U.S. schools.

    A better justification for decentralization, which I coincidentally wrote about yesterday (http://www.theinductive.com/blog/ontogeny-recapitulates-phylogeny-in-education.html) is that the point of an education is (or ought to be) to recapitulate intellectual history. If a population has a shared intellectual history, by having a shared culture, then recapitulating that via an education system is a relatively easy task (plus whatever material the student is exposed to in school will be encountered in life outside school, in disparate ways, which aids memory and retention).

    If you have a bunch of cultures thrown together with no clear, shared concept of self, then what are you going to recapitulate in school? The U.S. is a multicultural, multiregional, big, messy kluge. If this fact isn’t a star-spangled endorsement of decentralized education, then I am afraid we’ve misunderstood what education is.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      How strong is the Eigo juku system in Japan these days? It’s been a few years since I was over there. In the USA, children are lucky to get four years of a Romance language.

      I get American and European, Japanese and increasingly Chinese students at my Spanish language school in Guatemala, put them through an assessment test and very few of them can do much beside limp along with some theory. Everyone needs immersion to master a language.Report

      • Three of the four big national conversation schools have collapsed. The rest are geared increasingly towards standardized test scores. For truly motivated students, English can be mastered. It’s expensive as all hell to take English lessons, and a lot of students fail at it, but it is still possible, if the student has time between school and extracurriculars and all the other obligations the system requires.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      I have a theory on why Japanese kids have such a tough time with English, well, why some of them do. There’s an aspect of Japanese culture which has always indulged in a genteel self-pity: it’s a common litany, sakoku the poor, resource-deprived Japan. Living in the shadow of China for all those long centuries, the very word kanji means Chinese Characters, though a good many of those characters haven’t been used in China for many centuries. The Meiji era saw Japan rapidly adapting to Western technology, but on its own terms.

      And we know what Japanese internationalism looked like in the 1930s and 40s.

      Sakoku is everywhere. As Robertson Davies observed of self-pity, a lot is deadly but a little is a very comforting thing indeed. So though you’ll hear an awful lot of Beatles and Eagles on the karaoke, in Japan it’s mostly mumbled. English, unless you’re actually going to the UK or Beikoku, is mostly for inane t-shirt slogans.Report

      • Yeah, there’s definitely a cultural element to it. Since the standardized education system does not provide for English learning, children who can speak English are usually socially pressured to hide this fact in school. And there’s the whole thing about English as comedy. My wife studied English and worked as a translator for several years before our first child was born. Usually when we meet strangers together, she pretends she can’t speak any English to avoid being ridiculed for it. I didn’t really get this until recently, but I assume it has its parallels in American culture as well, which we’ll discover when INS finally lets us in.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      Christopher –

      You’re obviously more well-versed in this subject than I, but it looks like student achievement levels in Japan compare favorably to student achievement levels in the Nordic countries:


      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Will says:

        Absolutely. Standardized test scores in math should be pretty high, because the system is geared towards standardized test scores. Students typically spend six days a week in school from eight o’clock or so until dinner time.

        I think math kind of renders itself to repeated practice of problems until mastery. Science is a little more complicated than that, but Japan of course excels at science and technology as well. At the level of the humanities, however, particularly learning foreign languages and cultures, history, composition, etc., the students consistently struggle. Part of this is cultural: Japan has different norms for the humanities. Part is that the same certain approach taken towards math and science is applied to learning skills like communicating in a foreign language, and the students wind up learning facts about English instead of English.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Christopher Carr says:

          Again, I rely on your more recent experience and defer to your judgment: would you agree part of the problem within Japanese education is still the push to get a degree from the right university? It seemed to me, based on conversations with the Panasonic/Matsushita engineers I worked with, (though again, this may not now be true) those who made it to the best universities, Todai, Kyoto etc. basically spent their university years coasting along, having the time of their lives. The big push was just getting into the right universities: thereafter it was all a matter of nemawashi to make the right connections and get the right jobs.

          But from what I’m reading, this isn’t as true anymore. The prestige jobs in Kantou no longer await the fortunate few. What’s more, if you graduate and don’t get the job immediately, you won’t get many more chances to get one.Report

          • Most of the students I know work hard until university and then they just coast. But I think it’s kind of the same in the states for a lot of people. (It certainly was in my case.)

            I’m told by the people I work with, who are generally older, that the idea of taking time off to travel or changing careers isn’t really accepted by many employers. I suspect that a lot of this is exaggerated, but I can’t really know. I work in a really narrow industry.

            There are lots of small companies in Japan with lots to offer. Kyoto has a reputation as a center for creative fields and entrepreneurship, although jobs around Tokyo are more prestigious. But I don’t think it’s unlike things in the states. A huge number of people I knew in college went on to work for big investment banks in New York, but a lot of others moved to San Francisco to work with tech start-ups.

            It seems the idea of changing careers or combining experience into a unique career path doesn’t really compute. When I tell my students I’m planning on starting medical school at age 30, their jaws usually drop.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Christopher Carr says:

              Completely agree about Kyoto. For my money, anyone with any initiative gets the hell out of Kantou and heads for Kyoto. I contend Kyoto is the loveliest city in Asia, a perfect (if exceedingly weird) blend of ancient and modern.

              Though in some ways, Kyoto can be a bit of a letdown: nothing’s ever as good as you imagine it. Since I was a teenager, I’d wanted to see Ryoanji, the starkly beautiful karesansui garden in Kyoto. So I get up there, all these guides with bullhorns, addressing the throngs of tourists. I tried to find a quiet corner. I remember sitting down, my eyes filled with tears, deeply angry that such a sacred space could be reduced to a carnival exhibit.

              So I talked to a bozu. He laughed and said I was contributing to the problem, well, mostly Alan Watts had created the problem, trying to popularize Zen to Western audiences. He did sympathize a little and pointed out there were plenty of quiet places, if that was what I sought. And there are, all over Kyoto.Report

              • If you’re interested, I wrote a while back about a one-day trip I took to Kyoto, which is just an amazing city:





                I never finished the series, but I’m planning on finishing some day. I got to Ryoanji pretty early in the morning, and there were only a few people there. I thought it was quite interesting, but there are definitely places I like better.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I am amused by the thought of someone going to a specific place to search for Zen enlightenment, finding a crowd there, and getting upset.

                It’s like a perfect illustation of “You’re Doing It Wrong”…Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Not that you would know, but the warlords who built the karesansui, in fact, most of the temples of Kyoto, did so in the worst period of warfare in the history of Japan. The gardens they built were meant to be small visions of the Buddhist paradise. They would retreat into those gardens to contemplate. The Japanese have unique ways of marking a holy spot, the shimenawa rope and the torii gate.

                I guess, Duck-san, what you’d prefer is to turn every sacred space into a fucking freak show. Talk about Doin’ It Wrong.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’d think that someone who goes on and on about Zen would understand that “sacred space” is where you make it.

                Yes, these former places for quiet contemplation are now tourist attractions. You had this ideal of the perfect place, and you finally got to that place and it wasn’t anything like you imagined, and I get that it sucks. But you’re trying to come at this like there’s all these asshole tourists profaning the holy spirit of Zen, and I’m like “wait, you travelled around the world and went to a specific location in an attempt to achieve inner enlightenment?”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

                First, I don’t go on about Zen. I go on and on about Christianity, which preaches the Kingdom of God is within you.

                Furthermore, I said I took it up with a sagacious Buddhist priest, who informed me, to my face, I was part of the problem, a wise and Zen thing to say and I was reduced to embarrassed laughter. But that bozu did understand why I was saddened by the bullhorns, if you did not, o Grasshopper of Great Bumptiousness Who Has Encapsulated the Void, to the Consternation of Even the Buddha Himself. That monk sent me to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tadasu_no_Mori"Tadasu no Mori, a sacred forest and I enjoyed it very much, for I am a man much given to sacred spaces, even those not my own.Report

        • Avatar Will in reply to Christopher Carr says:

          That’s interesting, but it seems to validate my larger point – underlying cultural factors have a tremendous impact on student achievement levels. I suppose I should have added the qualifier that all homogeneous cultures aren’t necessarily good at transmitting educational values.Report

          • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Will says:

            I’ll agree with your larger point, but I’m still hopeful that a significant structural overhaul can considerably improve English education in Japan. I’m confident that an end to standardized tests, a de-emphasis on grammar rules and corresponding emphasis on successful use, decentralization of curricula, radical experimentation, and observation can improve the system dramatically I think. Anything, really, is better that 36 students shouting in unison “I’m fine, thank you! And you!?”Report

  5. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Heh, heh. My first grandchild is in the Finnish school system, in the city of Turku.

    Now (scratching my head) let me get this straight here. Despite Finland’s completely unionized system actually working and producing excellent results, you propose to de-unionize everything? If you want Finland’s fruits, you must also accept its branches, trunk and roots. You are not at liberty to indulge in fantasies about super-cooperative societies where teachers are paid pittances, not when the working example, you know, in the real world, that redoubt of Liberal thought, shows the exact opposite to be true.Report

  6. Avatar Sam M says:

    Sounds like a great idea, but the obvious question is, “How radical is radical?” Somewhere, there is a town that is going to test your tolerance in ways that exceed even the most ambitious caricature. They’ll “teach the controversy,” or they’ll exclude girls from math, or they’ll do something awful to black kids or Mexican immigrants.

    Where does your system draw the line? Creationism as biology? Surely, that experiment will “fail” and the those kids will not get accepted to Stanford medical school. Except… their cultures will not want to send them to Stanford medical school anyway, so they won’t care. Or i should say “they.”

    Also, what role will federal funding play? Are you arguinng that the feds should end all funding and let people fund it themselves? If federal funding IS involved, will you have ANY standards? What about prayer in school? What about prayer AS school?Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Sam M says:

      Sam M, I thought the deal was there’s not going to be any ‘federal’ funds involved? Not any federal of any kind!Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam M says:

      What price are we willing to pay?

      If the price for getting buy-in from an additional 20% of parents out there is to allow an “ID” disclaimer taking up all of 3 minutes on the first day of Biology class, are we willing to pay that?

      Would the ID disclaimer poison all of the children in the class and thus prevent us from having a new generation of doctors?

      On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve got a friend who teaches math in Pennsylvania (the not-Philly, not-Pittsburgh part) and he told me that he has a lot of rules for his word problems that he has to give the students. He can’t assume a rural setting, he can’t assume an urban setting… and so this means he can’t have “Billy” walk a certain number of blocks in an hour. He has some students that are low income and, as such, he can’t give “Billy” a bike to ride. Lots of little rules dictating what he can and can’t have “Billy” do in a word problem before we even get to the math part.

      What price are we willing to pay to teach the things we want taught?

      Are we willing to deal with the indignities of sure, maybe evolution is God’s design?

      Are we willing to inflict the indignities of “Billy” riding a bike and going 16 blocks in 8 minutes upon poor rural students?

      I don’t have kids and, as such, don’t really have a dog in this fight outside of wanting the best education for the kids of my loved ones… but it seems to me that there are a lot of things we ask the schools to do that do not involve stuff like “teaching math or science” and it sometimes feels like those things are given a higher priority than “teaching math or science”… and, as such, we oughtn’t be surprised when our children are slipping when it comes to math or science.Report

      • Avatar Sam M in reply to Jaybird says:


        I said before that I would be willing to accept some kind of ID instruction at my kid’s school, largely because I don’t care, and I hope my kid can suss out what he needs to know. Moreover, if I were living in an area where there was a really high concentration of evangelical christians, I would probably expect it, in much the same way I would expect to have some pro-forestry views taught in environmental science class if I lived in a timber area.

        But I think most people disagree, and that people are all for “a laboratory of democracy” until that lab puts something they object to in the petri dish.

        I should add that while I don’t care about ID and I don’t think a three minute (or even one day!) exposition would have any impact on actual learning at all, I have my limits, too. I would object if the school refused to teach my daughter math, for instance.

        Is this a problem worth considering? I don’t think it would come up a lot. But debates about race, immigration and gender roles would almost certainly arise. I am guessing it would usuallly be something I would shrug off, personally. Because I don’t care. But I might get mad about something.Report

  7. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I have previously said I don’t think socialism works in large, homogeneous societies. I’m beginning to question that assertion.

    The reason socialism has gotten bogged down over the long haul in countries like the EU and Japan seems fairly obvious, to me anyway. Those societies, while they planned for everything else, didn’t plan on a fall in the birth rate. Educated women have fewer children. These societies have become prisoners of their own success.

    Ancient societies practiced socialism within the family and clan structures. There’s an old story from Grimm’s Fairy Tales of an old man whose son and wife were burdened with his elderly father, who slurped his soup at the table. The wife complained of it, saying he sounded like a pig. Their little son began to construct a little trough. “What are you building?” his mother asked. “A trough, for you and Daddy to eat at, when you are old.” Thereafter, they did not complain of the old man slurping.

    Americans have become detached, not only from the society at large, (witness the rise of the Tea Parties, lashing out at government) but from their own family structures. The nuclear family is a thing of the past: I believe about half of marriages with children end up in divorce. Even within the religious communities, my own lifelong experiences among the Evangelicals lead me to believe they have been forced to accept this new paradigm. I remember with bitterest resentment when a certain member of my own family condemned me from Scripture for marrying a divorced woman all those years ago. Now he is divorced from his own wife and divorced again from his second wife, a broken man, his family and children feuding viciously within itself.

    John Locke uses the word “social” as “pertaining to society as a natural condition of human life” for the first time in 1695. Where is this natural condition to be found anymore? I write this in a hotel room, with three computers churning away, a mile from my latest engagement, just so I can go to meetings. My own family is scattered to the four winds: my Skype headset hangs around my neck. My cat is sleeping in her carrier.

    I have been up, working with my Indian counterparts since 0300 CST. There is no Natural Condition. The sailor’s children weep into their mother’s skirts as the hawsers are pulled aboard his departing ship. There is no ideal world. Society was always something of an illusion, a polite convention to which all could adhere but upon which none may rely.

    This I do know about Finnish society, from my son in law (Finland’s last capitalist) and his family. The Finns are at turns among the most alienated, taciturn people in the world, though he is not. If they have turned to their country for so many things, they understand isolation and the need for society. Americans, well, they’re completely in denial about their neighbours: we still delude ourselves the best possible model would be Ozzie and Harriet, a model which didn’t work then and won’t work now. That’s what a life spent watching the Teevee will do to you.

    Want society to give your kids a good educational system? It starts with a working society.Report

  8. Avatar Scott says:


    Still bemoaning the breakdown in civil society? I thought we covered that when I told you that, “forty plus years of liberal social policies have taught americans to expect a gov’t handout to fix their problems. Liberals don’t seem to like the unintended side effects of their policies.”

    As far as starting with a “working society,” CNBC had a very telling article the other day. The lead sentence said, “Government payouts—including Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance—make up more than a third of total wages and salaries of the U.S. population, a record figure that will only increase if action isn’t taken before the majority of Baby Boomers enter retirement.”
    Liberals have done a great creating a “working society.”


    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Scott says:

      Yes, I’m still whinging away. My mind has an odd tic: when I start thinking in a language, even for a few minutes, I get stuck in it. I’m sorta still thinking in Japanese and that language has a kotowaza proverb: when the wind blows the barrel makers get rich. Here’s how it works:

      Once the wind starts blowing, the dust is stirred up.
      Once the dust stirs up, people will go blind.
      If you’re blind, you resort to playing the shamisen for a living.
      A shamisen is a stringed instrument rather like a banjo. Its resonator is made of a stretched cat skin.
      If more shamisens are made, there will be a scarcity of cats.
      In the absence of cats, the mouse population will increase.
      If the mouse population increases, people will not store their rice in bags, but rather in barrels.
      The market for barrels goes up… and the barrel makers get rich.

      The point of this kotowaza is twofold. There are always unintended consequences to everything, and there’s always a way for a clever man who can anticipate them to make money from those consequences. The wind blows, in this case, we make provisions for the poor but limit them to only the wretchedly poor, thereby digging a tiger pit from which the poor can’t escape. So rather than throw a rope down there and pull the poor out, dust ’em off and put them into a meaningful job (which is all they wanted anyway) we have such as you to blame them for falling into the tiger trap you dug for them.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

        So what’s your point? That the Japanese invented slippery-slope reasoning?Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:


          It goes like this: in socialist societies such as Japan or Finland or those Yourpeons other Entitlement Societies of the sort some folks love to hate, they don’t dig tiger traps. Case in point: if you’re poor enough to qualify, you can get health insurance for your kids. Get a job and you lose it. That’s a tiger trap.Report

  9. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    In my humble opinion, neither decentralization nor centralization, as an overall methodology, is the answer.

    Stop trying to cram the entire educational system into a single layer of abstraction. It doesn’t work.

    Give teachers leeway in the classroom. Give principals leeway in the management of the school. There’s your pedagogical framework. It’s the job of the parents (below – check) and the superintendent (above – balance) to audit this.

    If a teacher appears to be under-performing, it’s the principal’s job to determine if this is an issue, because the principal is the one who should understand the classroom dynamic (they’re the closest one to the problem, above the teacher him/herself). If the principal is the one under-performing, it’s the parents/teacher’s job (below – check) and the superintendent (above – balance) to correct this.

    The school board’s *sole and only job* is to audit the superintendent. *Not* set curriculum; that’s the teacher & principal’s job. *Not* replace broken principals, that’s the superintendent’s job. They should gather input from the parents, teachers, and principals, but it’s not their place to mediate disagreements between those groups, unless you have a pervasive problem (which ought to be extremely rare if everything else is working).

    The Feds have two roles: first, establish a very minimum standard. Not at the *class* level, at the *school exit* level. Regardless of the state, an elementary school graduate should be able to do X, Y, Z. A high school student should be able to do X, Y, Z. This so that a college in Hoboken and a college in Los Angeles are comparing apples to apple, on their incoming applicants. Second, provide a source of revenue for project-based educational initiatives (similar to what the NSF does for science research) that are outside the scope of normal operations.

    The problem isn’t that we’re “centralized”, in the sense of a very tall and narrow organization chart. The problem isn’t that we’re decentralized. The problem is that at each layer of abstraction, *everybody* wants to get into everybody else’s fishing business.

    It’s like running a corporation where the CEO is running around micromanaging a line worker in a factory, the janitor has a spot on the steering committee for the R&D department, the customer thinks they’re on the board of directors, and the cops come running in at random times during the year to make sure everyone is filling out their TPS reports. And we wonder why it’s so effed up?Report

    • I disagree completely about letting a teacher or principal set curriculum. That’s how we end up with ID or worse in schools.Report

      • Right now we’re “getting” ID in schools from Boards of Education, m’friend.

        If you’re talking about exception scenarios (things that can go wrong), let’s talk about exception scenarios.

        So the teacher starts teaching ID (no way this passes the federal minimum standard, but okay let’s suppose). The parents get pissed off. They complain to the principal.

        The principal is a closet creationist and does nothing. The parents complain to the local board, who complains to the superintendent. The superintendent does nothing, because she’s *also* a closet creationist. The board does nothing, because *they’re all* closet creationists.

        Wait, uh, how are we going to stop all these closet creationists, anyway?

        Okay, let’s take a more realistic view: some of the teachers might be IDers. Some of the principals might be IDers. Maybe some of the superintendents are IDers.

        If *all* of those layers of abstraction have audit/correction power over the others, *you need to seed them all with a critical mass of IDers to suborn the whole system*. That’s *really* hard to do.

        Whereas if the Board of Education can get in anybody’s business, it’s really *easy* to suborn the whole system: take over the Board.

        Note: if everyone in Washington wants to teach the controversy, let Washington fail the federal standard, and nobody from a Washington high school can get a Pell grant. This problem will solve itself in short order.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

          Isn’t the problem *NOT* the “closet creationists” that might be hiding in the system but the “out and proud creationists” that are the ones with The Children that they are sending to the schools and demanding that their world views be treated respectfully?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

            “We’re Present! Evolution is not pleasant! To it we do not assent! Get used to it!”Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

            Okay, let’s talk about the “out and proud” creationists.

            Let’s have a frame, just so we have illustrations here.

            So you have 6 school districts in your state. You have 6 schools in each district. Your state has a large population of evangelical Christians who happen to be YEC (or OEC, doesn’t matter, but let’s just assume for the nonce that they’re not infighting).

            With the layout I have above, it’s possible for a local community of these folk to screw up a school. Largely, the population of this school will be their own kids (who are likely going to be screwed up anyway). For the kids at this school who have non-batshit crazy parents, they have an out -> they go to a different school.

            (If all the schools in the same district have the same problem, I have a sad fact for you. It’s time to pack up and move.)

            If you allow the BoE to get into the schools’ business, the YEC people are going to take over the BoE (like what’s currently underway in Texas), because duh, when you aggregate power you aggregate the ability for that power to be take over and used by a different agenda.

            If you have decentralized checks and balances, it’s very hard for a problem to become pervasive. That’s what we’re trying to achieve, here. Not stop all possibility of YEC loonies taking over anything to do with education. That’s an impossible goal, kind of like the war on drugs.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

              If you allow the BoE to get into the schools’ business, the YEC people are going to take over the BoE (like what’s currently underway in Texas), because duh, when you aggregate power you aggregate the ability for that power to be take over and used by a different agenda.

              If you have decentralized checks and balances, it’s very hard for a problem to become pervasive. That’s what we’re trying to achieve, here. Not stop all possibility of YEC loonies taking over anything to do with education. That’s an impossible goal, kind of like the war on drugs.

              I agree with this so much that it seems excessive and it kinda creeps me out.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

              “With the layout I have above, it’s possible for a local community of these folk to screw up a school. Largely, the population of this school will be their own kids (who are likely going to be screwed up anyway). For the kids at this school who have non-batshit crazy parents, they have an out -> they go to a different school.”

              There was a lady in Ohio who tried that, and she’s in jail now.

              “If all the schools in the same district have the same problem, I have a sad fact for you. It’s time to pack up and move.”

              If all the employers in your area don’t want to pay benefits, then it’s time to pack up and move.

              If none of the restaurants in your area want to sell dinner to black people, then it’s time to pack up and move.

              If no landlord will allow two homosexual men to rent an apartment together, then it’s time to pack up and move.

              (See how that works?)Report

              • > There was a lady in Ohio who tried that, and
                > she’s in jail now.

                Yes, and that is patently absurd and ought to be impossible (and note: it came about because the BoE has a lot more freaking authority than it ought to have, and *could not* happen under the sort of paradigm I’m talking about here).

                Regarding your other point, yes, there is a liberty issue. I’m staggeringly unconvinced that this is systemic (it’s certainly not on the scale of anti-gay or anti-black historical prejudice).

                So that may become a problem in the future. Okay, this is one of those times when I’d respectfully suggest that we change what is *obviously* broken now, and then if we need to tack on a mitigation factor later on down the line, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

                Otherwise we can’t do anything until we have a perfect solution.Report

        • I prefer the curriculum come from Washington.Report

          • In a sense it still does. They establish the minimum exit goals. They can put big carrots and sticks on this, too, even if they don’t fund state level education directly (You’re teaching ID? No Pell grants for your graduates).

            They just don’t decide how a teacher ought to teach a particular group of kids, with a particular group of personalities, with a particular set of socioeconomic conditions, all of which change on a yearly basis and the dynamic of which is best judged by the person actually teaching the class.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            Sorry, but your ‘conservative’ steet creds are hereby suspended. You’ll be notified when they are re-installed.Report

            • I dig standardized curriculum. Washington is the only logical place to find that.Report

              • Okay, so Washington publishes a standardized curriculum.

                They go out, and find all the geniuses in the world, and post the model curriculum.

                There is no reason that this needs to be mandatory, however. It assumes that there is only one optimal way to teach, which is ridiculous (that’s in my opinion).Report

              • Curriculum and teaching methods are different. If curriculum is federally standardized then we can concentrate on how to teach it.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Bingo. Teach however you want – slides, plays, droning lectures, fireworks. But make sure they know the following concepts.Report

              • And how do you determine they know those concepts? Testing!Report

              • Finland doesn’t do standardized testing.

                Anyway, testing is *audit*. If the Feds print the curriculum, they’re saying “you need to learn “.

                Once we assign the role of audit to the Feds, we’re back to “you need to learn , and we’re going to verify it by doing ” which inevitably leads to “you need to learn , and we’re going to verify it by doing , and if you don’t reach we’re going to cut off your money.”

                I’m unconvinced that we need standardized testing. Every college in the nation had an entrance exam back when I was applying. I’m pretty sure that colleges can do a pretty good job of testing their own incoming applicants to see if they’ll do well in their pedagogical environment.

                If you want to have a GED equivalent test, okay, I’ll buy that. “You’re able to read at a 12th grade level, wipe your ass, use a calculator, attend trade school, or join the military.” I don’t know that we need standardized tests for every subject.Report

              • Do we really want the first status check for educational success to be at the point where kids are supposed to be leaving the system? That’s the same failure we have seen here in KY with homeschooling.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                There’s a difference between the type of standardized testing I went through as a kid in the early and mid 90’s, ie. 4th/8th/12th grade testing that isn’t high stakes testing.

                That’s opposed to the standardized-testing heavy reforms that neoliberal/conservative education reform advocates want.Report

              • Mike, do you really think it’s a pervasive problem?

                > Do we really want the first status
                > check for educational success to be
                > at the point where kids are
                > supposed to be leaving the system?

                Maybe not (although… can’t we reset the expectations and let this be fought over at a lower level than the federales?), but I’m pretty sure we also don’t want the converse, where we’re testing at such a granular level and high frequency that the question of pedagogy is moot, because you have to spend all your time teaching to the test.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Though I completely agree with you about Creationism — every time the subject comes up, you may count on me to start in on a spittle-flecked rant condemning it — there’s another side to this Curriculum business.

        Every student is different, that’s just a fact. Some kids learn one way, some learn another way. Some kids you can just hand them a book and they’ll learn everything. Some kids, and this might surprise you, do far better with an audiobook version of the same text. God knows why, but I’ve seen it and it’s just miraculous once you see how even minor adaptations of a curriculum can affect outcomes.

        When teachers don’t have the necessary space to decide for themselves, in concert with parents and outside advice, to make decisions, you’ve created a Bed of Procrustes. We don’t take this approach with medicine or manufacturing, why do we try this with Education?Report

        • Blaise – so in a room with 30 students – how many teaching models does one teacher have to create for her learning diverse students? And when those kids get into college and the workforce, will similar exceptions be made?Report

          • I don’t care about college and the workforce.

            One, because the pedagogical environment is hugely different at a small liberal arts college vs a research university vs a large state university. You’re 18. You’re a legal adult, you can go to war and smoke and drive a car and own guns. It’s your job to look at what you’ve learned about how you learn and pick a college that fits your learning style.

            Ditto the workforce. School is not about training you to do a job.Report

            • But don’t you think expectations are set in those lower levels of school? Kids would come to expect a highly-focused and individualized atmospehere that isn’t going to be realistic when they leave the system.Report

              • That’s something I used to think was a potential major problem, but it’s not borne out by the performance of homeschoolers and non-traditional schoolers once they enter into college.

                Systematically, they do as well as their traditionally-schooled peers.

                Which says either everyone’s expectations are effed up, or bad expectations is correctable at the college level (or both), but in either case it doesn’t seem to be a major problem.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                I’d make the cynical argument that there are two groups of homeschooled children going into college – one going to Rengent/Liberty-type Christianity-focused colleges.

                Then you have kids going to normal colleges and if I had to guess, the kids going to normal colleges are likelier to be smarter than the ones settling for those Regent/Liberty-ish schools. So, the numbers look slightly better than reality.Report

              • That’s a fair point, but is it really that big of a deal?

                If homeschooled YECs aren’t going to “real” college anyway (for some value of “real”), then their relative “doing fine” is probably not an issue. The fact that they might not do well at a “real” college isn’t really germane if they were never going to go there anyway, right?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                If they went to public school, they might be exposed to something outside of the walled garden their parents created that they’re actually interested in. Maybe instead of becoming some preacher’s wife and pumping out five kids and working part-time at a retail store to pay the mortgage, they had the capacity to do more. That’s why I think every child should have the right to get interested in something outside of their parent’s scope of belief and that’s why I have big problems with homeschooling.

                If you want to be a closed-in adult never interacting with someone unlike you, that’s your choice. Have fun. But, you don’t have the right to lead your child the same path without giving them a choice of another one.

                Yes, I realize that makes me a statist who wants to destroy the nuclear family. 🙂Report

              • Mr. Ewiak, many young lives are destroyed before they even get started, and that’s the bigger problem than being too sheltered.

                At some point, even the most sheltered find the door ajar at some point, the daylight peeking in, and they walk out. I run across many of them on the internet, the most vocal against religion and convention and all that boring and repressive stuff—the ones who use comments sections like this and readers like us for therapy and therapists.

                And then you never hear the fucking end of it.

                That said, I’m not a big fan of Regent/Liberty-type colleges, but I’m also not convinced the sheltered and consequenceless hedonism of many or most other schools doesn’t ruin more lives, or at least derail them for decades.

                Harvey Mansfield—one of those conservatives noted more for their rareness in the academic establishment than for what they actually say or think—on the “hook-up culture,” the prevailing ethos of the modern American campus:


              • Avatar Kitty in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                @ Jesssie

                > If they went to public school, they
                > might be exposed to something
                > outside of the walled garden their
                > parents created that they’re
                > actually interested in.

                Absolutely true.

                I can’t make ’em go to public school, and people inside walled gardens usually don’t like being taken out of them forcefully, and do a plenty big heap good job blowing up the walls on their own eventually anyway.

                And, for the record, I know quite a few homeschoolers and they have a marked tendency to skew to independent thinkers. Not that this is a great indicator of the overall population of homeschoolers, but there’s a *lot* to be said about informal schooling environments for lots of different types of kids, so I’m definitely not an advocate of getting *rid* of homeschooling.Report

              • That last “Kitty” was me. Stupid caching browser 🙂Report

          • To expound a little bit more on that last:

            No high school in this country prepares kids for the pedagogical environment here at Caltech. Full stop. Whether or not you agree with the environment (a discussion for another time), it’s designed to be educationally brutal.

            Most high schools in the country prepare kids to go to San Jose State University. There’s lots of opportunity for people who stopped at Algebra II to get their math requirements done and focus on being a Art History student, which is what they want to study anyway.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            Not all that many. In some ways, it’s rather like grading. You have to find what works: there are some simple tests you can apply to the situation. This is routinely done with Special Ed kids, it’s called the IEP.

            If we look at an arbitrary student through a Rawls Veil of Ignorance, we start him out on some normative route through the system, just like all the other kids. But one otherwise normal kid just keeps failing at a specific obstacle. We can’t go on pretending we don’t know he has a problem: he needs individual intervention if we’re to put this kid back on track, helping him advance.

            When I taught math, I had a bunch of kids who got caught at Fractions, so I held them there until they had mastered the material. Some of them never caught up to the rest of the class, but they did make progress and all of them mastered fractions. So what if I had a bunch of kids at different levels? Should I have dragged them all along, willy-nilly, and failed those kids?

            As for College and the Work Force, an education is the process of teaching someone how to learn. College and the Work Force will require a facile learner, quick on the uptake, not some Bitzer who can tell you a horse is a quadriped with forty teeth, namely, twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Don’t confuse what is taught with why it’s taught. Nobody will ever be called on to algebraically calculate the intersection of two trains leaving a station 100 miles apart with one train leaving the station at 20 miles per hour and the other at 30, because the train doesn’t leap into action at 20 miles per hour. That’s the realm of calculus.Report

            • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Guten Abend Mein Freund. I think you made a mistake with the train problem-no algebra or calculus is necessary to determine the distance travelled by either train. The important thing to keep in mind is the intersecting point of both trains. And speed is entirely irrelevant. Wherever the trains intersect they will ALWAYS be equally separated from the point where they left and the point where they are going. Remember–the point where they intersect, regardless of their speed, means they are both precisely equidistant from their points of departure and their points of arrival. Make sense? Of course, the conductor driving 20 miles per hour is undoubtedly a very drunken liberal and all passengers would be wise to get the hell off the train as soon as possible!Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Heidegger says:

                Wherever the trains intersect they will ALWAYS be equally separated from the point where they left and the point where they are going.

                If two trains intersect, they’re not going anywhere else for a long while.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Mike, they are on different train tracks. That has no bearing on the the solution to this problem, in any case. This is one of those logic problems that is much easier to do in your head. And put away any calculators–you will not be served well by cluttering up your brain with unnecessary numbers–like what happens if one of the drivers decides to 50 mph. The answer will always be the same. Although your solution cleverly and unintentionally made it easier to understand. Of course, the Jews were responsible for delaying the train with their chronic tardiness.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Sometime you’ll have to preach on your opinion re: God, creation, cosmos, and evolution. I’m looking forward to that.Report

  10. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “Nobody will ever be called on to algebraically calculate the intersection of two trains leaving a station 100 miles apart with one train leaving the station at 20 miles per hour and the other at 30…”

    But they will be called on to create models of a situation based on observed facts, and to extrapolate future conditions based on those models, and they damn well better have some idea of how to do that, or else they’ll be totally blindsided when the rate on their ARM goes up to 12.5%.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

      There’s an app for that, Duck.

      Write the app, make a little money. When the dust blows, the barrel makers prosper. This isn’t difficult to understand: we want to create a society of learners, not a generation of force-fed geese destined to become foie gras. No fun for the goose, no fun for the feeder.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

        So we’re going to create a nation of people with no problem-solving ability beyond “hire someone else to solve it for me”?

        “[W]e want to create a society of learners, not a generation of force-fed geese destined to become foie gras.”

        Uh…how does “download an app for that” create a society of learners?Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

          Yep. Zackly. Some of us are smart enough to write software so we’re not wasting our efforts on re-solving already-solved problems. It’s called the progress of civilization.

          And then, regretfully, some of us are Conservatives.Report

  11. Avatar BSK says:

    I wonder if there is any detriment, educational or otherwise, to living in such a homogenous society and culture. If there is, I doubt it trumps the benefits outlined here. But I am someone who is of the mindset that being around people different from oneself is a good thing. If this is absent from the Finnish system, what is the cost?Report

    • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BSK says:

      BSK–“But I am someone who is of the mindset that being around people different from oneself is a good thing”. Isn’t every human “different” from one another? Has there ever been evidence that multi-cultural schools out perform un-multi-cultural schools? Why can’t schools reflect the students’ social, racial, and cultural makeup of the neighborhoods that they have grown up in? And please tell me you’re not in favor of busing children from African countries into Scandinavian countries in order to achieve some social engineerist “model” of how societies should look. I think social scientists and engineers are probably close to being just about 100% wrong on everything they get their hands on, especially the implementation of racial diversity. But hey, what do I know?Report

    • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BSK says:

      BSK–“But I am someone who is of the mindset that being around people different from oneself is a good thing.”
      Hey, great! What’s stopping you? Does the State need to tell us how to do everything? Like what to eat, how much to sleep, what kinds of light bulbs to use, how many mpg our cars should get, how much sugar we should put on our cereal, and any number of other politically correct asininities that we should adhere to. Yes, worst of all, they now want to ban Twinkies.Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Heidegger says:

        What does ANY of this have to do with what I said? You are seriously losing it.

        My point was that, while it is interesting to note what the benefits of a homogeneous society are, we should also consider the drawbacks. If there are drawbacks, does that mean homogeneity is wrong? No. Does that mean heterogeneity should be socially engineered? No. All I asked was whether or not there was something loss as a function of a lack of diversity and, if there is, is there any way to account for this in an effective manner? Jesus man, you took on about 100 different straw men, if we can even call them that, given just how far away your comments were from my actual position.Report

  12. Avatar Kyle says:

    The exchange between Robert (and by ext Will) and Mike is interesting, in part because they’re both right.

    I’m a firm believer that self-development is a stronger, more lasting, and more self-sufficient form of development. Which is why smart kids who want to learn will often find a way and nation-states with liberalism that naturally evolve into decently functioning democracies, Greece excepted. Consider it the Prime Directive approach.

    Children whose parents really want them to succeed will increasingly adapt to find ways to make it happen and as families change, cultures will.

    On the other hand, Mike is right, what’s unfolding before our very eyes is tragic. The educational deficits among poor, largely minority children in America verges on the unconscionable. To anyone other than an absolute relativist, it’s extraordinarily hard to justify inaction or insufficient action when it comes to something so relatively costless as education but so critically key to self-determination. Consider it the Educational Triage approach.

    Help those you can, as much as you can, for as long as you can, and worry about the rest later.

    I think there are things to legitimately fear about educational inadequacy, certainly more than from income inequality, and think that while educational triage is perhaps necessary in the short term to move the status quo, we need to create and align incentives to produce a cultural shift that will support self-directed educational attainment.

    Maybe because I refuse to choose either and instead want both, I don’t see the mutual exclusivity of Will’s and Mike’s visions of educational change. A more diverse educational system with greater local flexibility and de-centralized decision making, I believe, can co-exist alongside tightly controlled, centralized systems.

    As crude as this is, maybe education should be more like coffee. A choice between the local hippie co-op, a few regional chains, and Starbucks’ all for around the same price point.Report

  13. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Kyle, you make a good, sensible point. The problem, I think, is that the nationalized system will dominate and seek to envelope the local. It’s about both human nature and the nature of power. The truth is that professional educators, administrators, and related folk are, many times, not interested in children, so much as they’re interested in their fiefdoms.
    Also, there’s a spiritual component to children, human beings, and educations that NO ONE wants to touch. And, until we face that, there’s probably not going to be much improvement.Report

    • Bob – I’ll ask you the same question i asked E.D. Kain in his post. What are the unique challenges in schools that are best addressed at the local level?Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Well, the locals are more qualified to address the question of finance e.g. the so-called one room school house for grade schoolers might be more efficacious in terms of finance as well as learning. My guess is that the federals would frown on that sort of thing.
        Also, locals might be able to find ‘teachers’ who may not have a ‘teaching’ certificate but have not only the knowledge and requisite skills but the desire to teach children. And, many of these people might be retired and willing to work on a part-time basis and for lower salaries. I’m pretty sure the federals would stop that immediately.
        For me the key is to have these kids coming outta 8th grade knowing math, able to speak English properly, write proficiently, read well, and with some idea of the ‘good’ e.g. kids with the abilitiy to funcition in society and not a bunch of cannibals.
        Because finance is now and will be a paramount consideration, by hiring these ‘retired’ teachers it will save tax dollars for those who will be teaching the sciences, math, languages, rhetoric, philosophy, etc and for related materials.
        Also, local school districts have no need of the federal nonsense e.g. rubbers-on-condoms, Susie has two mommies, and other related politically correct, diversity bs. Getting rid of this business saves a small fortune.Report

        • So let’s say that the federal government creates a mandatory curriculum that covers the basics and builds in ‘variable’ blocks throughout the year where each school district has opportunities to teach locally-specific curriculum. Let’s say they also give districts hiring discretion so long as the academic results meet federal guidelines. What else is missing? What local challenges must still be addressed by the school system that cannot be covered by federal policy?Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            I have to take off but just off the top of my head: Why do you want to even think of a ‘federal’ dept of edumaction? After all it was J Carter who first established it back in the 70’s. As a conservative I’m all for getting rid of it, we don’t need it, the locals can do better.
            Mike, it’s like your thinking that if we don’t have an ‘expert’ come up with this silliness, why it isn’t any good. I’m saying we don’t need another inept, costly, bureaucracy.Report

            • I’m saying that I’d rather have one bureaucracy than thousands. Isn’t that more efficent? And I still don’t uderstand what magical skills these locals have that trump anything that could come out of the federal. As I mentioned to Kain, 2+2 still equals 4 in every county in the country.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                I’m not sure why you think we require a fed bureau fo ed?
                The nation got along without one for 190 years or so, until our ‘progressive’ friends pushed one through. Has edumacation gotten better or worse? Has it gotten more expensive or cheaper. Are the kids today better educated or less so?
                So, I’m saying go back to ‘local’, root out the inept progressives and their failed political correctness et al, teach common sense, and the basics in order to produce function human beings coming outta grade school and then we can talk about our ‘centralized’ high schools…I’m open on that discussion.Report

              • Because a federal department would hopefully prevent children from being penalized for the misfortune of being born in a poor locale. When it comes to education I am a pretty big fan of redistribution (not of money per se but of curriculum, standards and quality teachers).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                Of course we need a Secretary of Education, just like we need a Secretary of Defense. The very idea, that we don’t need some unified approach to the disgraceful state of education in this country, well it’s just ignorant. If the military were run as fecklessly as the school systems, we’d never hear the end of it from the Conservatives.

                Now the military has fallen into sin and error, too. Contractors and political shenanigans encrust its hull like so many vile barnacles. We see the need for reform in the military, a constant, ongoing process of periodically putting that ship into drydock, scraping the hull and doing the necessary repairs and retrofitting.

                Last night, I had a kid shake my hand and thank me profusely for my service to this country. Nobody will ever shake my hand for being a teacher and nobody will ever commiserate with me as I continue to grieve over my decision to leave the teaching profession.

                There is no honor for teachers. There is in other cultures, but not this one. All the rest of your hectoring about Progressives and the balance of your borrowed litany of complaint may be safely dismissed. Until we afford teachers (without whom our military would never have educated citizen soldiers or civil servants) the same respect we afford police officers and firemen and the military, just sit down, be quiet a while and consider why we don’t.Report

          • > What else is missing?

            It’s not going to stay like that; creeping featurism.

            > I’m saying that I’d rather have one bureaucracy
            > than thousands.\

            So would I, honestly. And yes, it’s more efficient (assuming it is done well). But this seems to be an issue where the negative is regarded as too negative by one side, and I don’t care enough about the positive. So let the Feds set the standard, the States set their own curriculum, and let the principals and teachers do their job.Report

            • Avatar Kyle in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

              I don’t understand this actually. If the single bureaucracy streamlining efficiencies are so attractive, why do we have thousands of bureaucracies instead of say 50?

              Why hasn’t some progressive state like say Vermont or California or Oregon simply centralized everything to the state? It would fairly easy and perfectly legal to do. In the great laboratories of Democracy, why has no one tried this particular set up?Report

      • Hence my solution to just have both….

        In the meantime, issue number one, the federal government can’t simply mandate things in education, they have to do it via carrots, like they do with speed limit laws. This is of course ridiculously coercive but personally, I’m not a fan of my government achieving public policy goals in much the same way that cigarette companies gain customers.

        Which brings me to my second issue, mathematics are essentially a national standard and ED has been up and running for 31 odd years, have either produced appreciable gains? No. So spending billions of dollars over a 31 period, because lets be honest ED is a ridiculously small department, and exceptionally little to show for it. So the solution is to give more money for an even bigger project that the department seems ill equipped to handle? If this sounds like a good idea, I have some cloud insurance to sell you or at least I need something along the lines of proof that the federal government has the real capacity to do something that so far has eluded it and many a state government, some of which are the size of real national governments.

        The third issue is my biggest issue – it’s also the most easily overlooked – is what the effect on education is of removing the primary locus of political power and representation to the national level from state and local governments. At the state and local level, education spending is among the largest chunks of the budget, if not the largest in some areas. Which means the state through its legislative and executive representatives has greater reason to focus on it and its easier to hold people accountable. At the national level, even if education spending were to absorb the equivalent spending the states do and increase (wildly unlikely and a multi-fold increase) it would still pale in comparison to other areas like defense and the elderly. Which means it suddenly becomes much harder to keep politicians accountable for their decisions vis-a-vis education and education itself has to compete against more interests and powerful special interests.

        This matters enormously because it means when it becomes teachers versus AARP, guess who’s going to win? AARP. The elderly are notoriously stingy when it comes to greater spending on schools via redistribution or higher taxation and their voting clout is considerable at the federal level. At the same time, people will elect far fewer politicians who have far less incentive to become knowledgeable about education issues precisely because its relative importance is less. This is not a recipe for good political leadership on an issue. There’s reason to believe that this is not a chicken and egg problem because there are responsibilities the federal government has that the states do not and at the end of the day proximity matters. Are people more likely to judge a national leader on the quality of their local school or on the foreign policy issue of the day and the overall performance of the economy?

        Not to mention the one size fits all approach education makes it more likely education will become another avenue for political posturing in the culture wars on issues like abstinence only, historical revisionism, creationism, and especially english only instruction etc… These issues exist now but for the moment they’re largely confined to specific locales where it mirrors the community at large.Report

  14. Avatar FinnishLady says:

    I am a 62 year old Finnish woman living in Helsinki.
    There has been so much talk about the Finnish educational system that reading all the articles about this phenomenon in the internet has taken a lot of time.

    I think that the most important part of this *phenomenon* has been forgotten i.e. the contribution of the tax payers and their belief for a better society. We do pay high taxes in Finland but we trust that we get value for the money paid.

    You do not get well paid teachers for schools if the tax payers do not trust the system. We want all kids to be good tax payers in the future, too, following this system. Also the immigrants receive the same high standard and free education as the native kids and most of them remain in the country and bring in high valued international connections.

    In USA people hate taxes.. I read some opinions there about the news that Finland gives every citizen the right for a decent internet connection. And the opinions were like: why should I pay for the internet connection for the others. People there do not want a good society, they want a free society i.e. free of taxes.

    So if you do not want to pay for the teachers, you might think that you are the only one who is supposed to earn money for living and the others are just there to serve you as good as they can cope and, furthermore, you can bully them as you want to.

    The people in USA bring so much *democracy and freedom* to the other countries with armed forces and spending billions of bucks and nobody cares..
    And then you are hesitant to give a free of charge and good education for your kids?

    I think that the educational system needs a lot of adult training, too. Meaning that people have to think before saying all kinds of things in a small scale. There are so many of you in your big and beautiful country. But only a few wants to contribute to it’s well being.

    Sorry that I write so bitterly, but I dont like theoretical talking.. the facts of attitudes are openly there.

    And, as for the linguistic studies, please note that we Finns just to survive in this world have to study at least 3-4 foreign languages among the other studies, and it has not lowered our intelligence. And Finland has two official languages i.e Finnish and Swedish..

    Have good day all and do not get angry with me.)Report