Today in School-Reform Fads: Scandinavian Socialism! (Maybe?)

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12/14/2011 3:36 PM |

Pretty sure this is how all Finnish schools look, and how the teachers dress.

  • Pretty sure this is how all Finnish schools look, and how the teachers dress.

A Times reporter tagged along with a Finnish educator for the New York leg of his whirlwind tour of the U.S. education system: he gave a speech in Chicago, chatted with government staffers at a book party in Washington, and talked to kids at a private school in Manhattan.

Why? Because Finnish kids test well.

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg is the author, most recently, of Why Are Finnish Kids So Smart?—that’s the book that he launched in Washington—and something of an ambassador for the Finnish education system.

This is in and of itself not so surprising given the way the school reform movement gravitates towards single agents of change—your Eva Moskowitzes, your Geoffrey Canadas. What is surprising is that the answer to the question of why Finnish kids are so smart is that Finland is a small socialist country without much poverty—poverty, you’ll recall from Diane Ravitch’s “The Myth of Charter Schools,” being the single largest obstacle to education, and difficult to overcome even by rigorous inspirational education models for the transcendent bootstrap achievers of tomorrow.

“The primary aim of education,” Sahlberg tells the Times, “is to serve as an equalizing instrument for society.”

The question, which the Times piece doesn’t quite answer, is whether these are actually the lessons we’re learning from our guest of honor, or if we’re more focused on how the Finns have managed to create such competition for the master’s program required for aspiring teachers. God, are we obsessed with the notion that too few of our most brilliant minds want to be teachers.

(Elsewhere in our efforts to change the way kids learn rather than the inequality which hampers their learning, as underwritten by the members of society who profit from the inequality in the first place but feel bad about it: earlier this week, the Times ran a lengthy investigation into the failings of for-profit online charter schools, which seems the logical endpoint of the school reform movement’s corporatist fetish, though maybe it’s not, I stopped reading the article partway through because I was afraid I was about to read about publicly traded companies winning the low bid on government contracts by outsourcing test prep to Bangladeshi call centers or something.)