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One of the topics that comes up every election cycle here in the US is education reform.  It usually ends up being a “discussion” about funding though.  It rarely ends up being about reform and if it is, it’s usually about something other than what it should be – how do we better educate our children in a way that will help them grow up to be thinking adults.

Our education system has some real challenges and it seems as though those challenges are not getting better.  I’m sure there are many things that contribute to that.  One of the biggest is that we are stuck in our thinking.  We think that we should only be reforming education, rather than looking at the whole system.

Our current education system is based on some old assumptions that don’t fit our current times.  Often our educational system is designed to train students to be compliant, to listen, to take tests and to work a lot.  We’re educating students to be factory line workers – all of them.  There’s nothing wrong with being a factory line worker.  My challenge is that this is not good training for most of the students who won’t be a factory line worker.  It’s a 19th and early 20th century way of thinking about education.

There are exceptions to this of course and there are some really great teachers out there.  Unfortunately these teachers hands are often tied behind their backs and aren’t allowed to teach students how to learn what they really need to learn.

One article on this caught my attention – “How Finland broke every rule – and created a top school system.

Here’s how the article starts:

Spend five minutes in Jussi Hietava’s fourth-grade math class in remote, rural Finland, and you may learn all you need to know about education reform – if you want results, try doing the opposite of what American “education reformers” think we should do in classrooms.

Instead of control, competition, stress, standardized testing, screen-based schools and loosened teacher qualifications, try warmth, collaboration, and highly professionalized, teacher-led encouragement and assessment.

Here’s a warning for you before you start to say we should adopt the Finnish model – No we shouldn’t.  Finland has a great education system.  They have their challenges and problems too in education.  But overall, it’s a pretty good system.

We spend a year in Finland and our kids went to a Finnish public school – one where everything occurred in English.

Our kids had a good education, less homework, practically no tests, a lot more recess time and guess what – they learned and they were happier about learning too.

The danger is seeing this and thinking that it would be a good idea to transport this system to the US.  The danger with this is that Finland and the US are not the same.  They have different cultures, different languages and appreciations for language, different histories, different ways of looking at the world and society, different ideas about trust of other human beings, different government and political system, etc.

You cannot pluck a policy or system from one system and plop it down in a completely different place and expect it to work as well, or at all.  Doing that makes the assumption that the people involved don’t matter.  And they do – a lot.

Are there things to learn from the Finnish system – yes, certainly.

How should the US reform its education system?  I don’t have all the answers.  I think we have to start by asking the questions – What is the purpose of education?  Who are attempting to develop our students into?  Why are we doing organized education at all?  What are the values that should guide our education system?  What would it look like if we started from scratch?  What’s holding us back from making necessary changes?  How do we overcome them?  What can we agree upon?

There really is no sense in reforming the system until we start answering some core foundational questions about education.  Otherwise, it’s like we are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  The moves may make it look nice, but really won’t do anything to make an actual improvement.