Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fern vs. Forest

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Linda Darling-Hammond wrote about a recent worldwide educational seminar in New York City. The slant? Well that in really high performing countries, teachers are respected and are well paid. They provide high quality teacher training, support their get the picture, I'm sure.

And I have to say that as a teacher these types of articles make my head spin just as much as the teacher bashing, anti-union rhetoric we hear so often. I'm happy for Finland, really I am. I'm glad that they have a wonderful educational system and love their teachers. But are we to conclude that modeling our schools after theirs is the answer?

While we might be able to learn some things from Finland, a comparison of the U.S. to Finland is like comparing a fern to a forest. Yes, they're both shades of green.

The population in Finland is smaller than that of New York City. The population is largely homogeneous, the dominant language being Finnish. The child poverty rate is 4 percent. They are not currently running or participating in any wars.

Our schools are part of a huge, troubled nation filled with violence, an extremely heterogeneous population, with confused and overwhelmed parents. Nearly 25 percent of children are from families living in poverty.

The biggest problem we have in the dialogue about education is how limited it is. Yes, there are bad teachers and it would seem, plenty of them. The unions are often inflexible and administrators can be narrow minded and political.

But schools are not isolated islands unto themselves and the problems go way beyond the walls of school buidings.

How would Finland's educational system hold up under the challenges of educating American children?

There's no quick fix, no single answer. The lack of quality in our educational system is merely a reflection of the lack of quality, moral conviction and sense of community that maybe this country once had.

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