Education and the Welfare State

Gamerman, Ellen. 2008. “What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?” Wall Street Journal (29 February): p. W 1.

The article seems to suggest a type of learning suggestive of the ideology of Mao’s China, where the best had the responsibility of helping the others.

“15-year-old Fanny Salo at Norssi gives a glimpse of the no-frills curriculum. Fanny is a bubbly ninth-grader who loves “Gossip Girl” books, the TV show “Desperate Housewives” and digging through the clothing racks at H&M stores with her friends. Fanny earns straight A’s, and with no gifted classes she sometimes doodles in her journal while waiting for others to catch up. She often helps lagging classmates. “It’s fun to have time to relax a little in the middle of class,” Fanny says. Finnish educators believe they get better overall results by concentrating on weaker students rather than by pushing gifted students ahead of everyone else. The idea is that bright students can help average ones without harming their own progress.”

The article also suggests the value of a welfare state without a heavy hand, unlike the US where we get the heavy hand without the welfare — at least in education.

The article also mentions the obvious fact that there are fewer disparities in education and income levels among Finns. Also

“Each school year, the U.S. spends an average of $8,700 per student, while the Finns spend $7,500. Finland’s high-tax government provides roughly equal per-pupil funding, unlike the disparities between Beverly Hills public schools, for example, and schools in poorer districts. The gap between Finland’s best- and worst-performing schools was the smallest of any country in the PISA testing. The U.S. ranks about average.”


4 comments so far

  1. mark hansen on

    many years ago in high school a friend who was having trouble with algebra; came to me for help.
    amidst much goofing off i tutored him in the course and found that by having to explain it to him, i gained a much greater understanding of it myself.
    not that i am anything like a math whiz, but i got an A(one of my few) and he got a C, after
    having been failing the course.
    perhaps the technique of the one room school house could be of good use.
    wherein the older students did at least some of the teaching of the younger.

  2. mperelman on

    You are correct. I often have students tutor others. Both gain from the experience.

  3. Steve on

    John Taylor Gatto, a New York State Teacher of the Year, wrote a book in 1992 called, “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.” It’s a good starting point for a US-specific critique of our current school system. The insane almost allergic response in the US to “socialist” ways of thinking will make difficult adopting here much of what makes Finland’s system work well. Gatto has some very US-appropriate ideas. It’s controversial, and I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s good to get a look at what an experienced eye has to offer.

  4. SJU on

    It’s always fascinating to learn about other cultures. I found this article very insightful, reading this I almost couldn’t fathom there way of education, but found it quite refreshing. I think the biggest problem in U.S. education is that we push students too much, or rather treat them like prisoners, or teachers sometimes feel like babysitters. I like how they have a more relaxed atmosphere at their schools, not to mention that college is free. That probably takes a big weight off the student’s shoulders and helps drive them to discover what’s right for them, not what society thinks is right for them.

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