Monday, November 09, 2009

creating a culture of learning

Finland is almost overwhelmed these days with tour buses filled with educators from around the world. Pat Bassett, head of the National Association of Independent Schools had gone to Finland for an educational conference sponsored by Microsoft, and got on the wrong bus, and much to his pleasure ended up on one such school tour by mistake. Finland's number one rankings in the PISA studies have generated a great deal of interest and educators from lessor ranking nations like the US are there looking for a magic bullet... some special something that they can hang their hopes upon, that could be easily implemented in their own countries. Wouldn't it be nice... to discover some special something that could be easily transported and implemented at little cost that would raise test scores to a level commensurate to our standing as a leading nation?

Things don't work quite that way, and one might have to go pretty deep into Finnish culture to begin to understand the Finnish success story. And unless you have some awareness of the history and method of Sloyd, you probably wouldn't have a clue where to begin. One of the things Pat Bassett discovered about Finland is that they don't have independent schools. They have a public system so good that no one feels the need for independent schooling. Historically, you will have to go back a bit to when the whole nation of Finland was controlled by the Russian Czar to understand why. After the Peace of Paris in 1856, the Czar was so grateful to the Finnish people for helping him resist the onslaught of Napoleon's army, that he visited Finland and in thanks to the Finnish people promised the creation of a national system of primary education. Uno Cygnaeous, a Lutheran preacher and teacher was selected to develop the national system of education, the Folk Schools of Finland.

Cygnaeous was an avid follower of Pestalozzi and Froebel, and created educational sloyd as a means through which to extend the benefits of craft education beyond the kindergarten years.
The instruction shall aim at providing the pupil with the general handiness which is of great importance to every man, especially to the manual laborer, and also with skill in some home industry (sloyd) most suitable to the general public of our land. The handwork in the seminary, (normal school) as in the elementary school will not be carried on mechanically; nor will it consist of unreasoning and mechanical manipulations, which ignore the mental powers and therefore neither satisfy the mind, nor establish an inclination for work, but on the contrary, frequently inculcate disgust and dislike for the occupation insisted upon. The handcraft should take into consideration both mental and bodily capabilities, and so influence both physically and psychically. ...not only for the acquisition of good general dexterity in such work, but also to teach them (students) neither to shun nor to be ashamed of honest work of whatever kind.
And thus, while our own schooling became a means through which class lines were drawn and reinforced based on the artificial divide, hand vs. head, the Finnish system drew the hand and head together at the common grounds of the heart. People of all classes came to love their schools and to trust the good done for their children. And teachers are given a place of honor in the Finnish society.

This does not mean that we should not look at Finnish schools for guidance in the reshaping of our own to higher standards, but that we need to look deep. We won't find an easy fix, but I suggest that by putting our children's hands to work shaping intellect and character of each child, we might have a fighting chance for change.

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