Monday, January 2, 2012

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success

Scandinavia as a whole seems to have a very successful educational system. This is what drew me to study education in Oslo and then independent research in Denmark and Finland. I definitely had to hit Finland, which I knew was often ranked as #1 in the world, despite their shorter hours of schooling. It seemed they are more effective with the time they had. Although I barely scratched the surface, I did learn a lot and was shocked by some findings: school not mandated until age 7. Lots of time for play. Lots of outdoor time. LOTS of technology. Teachers revered and respected. Standardized test scores frowned upon, yet they still perform well on them. Individualized attention. We are burning our kids out, even at the best of schools. What could we be if we thought a bit differently???

I recently read this article and was motivated by what I read: What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success.

A friend commented:

I find it ironic that the principle we champion, 'competition', when applied to education has the net opposite effect. Rich kids, bathed in the excesses of the education system given them under produce because, well they know they don't need to. Poor kids, already behind, see their example and conclude, we aren't going to work any harder than they are. End result? Less competition and a society spiraling downward. ( I know these are generalizations, but I've frequently heard and seen numerous examples supporting it.) In the end it comes down to the character of the people involved. Public or private, doesn't matter, never has.

And then I said:

In America, we're always talking about "leveling the playing field," especially in the program I did "NYC Teaching Fellows." With a focus on equity and absolutely no private schools, that's exactly what kids get in Finland, an equal opportunity everywhere. Haves / Have Nots . . . not as much an issue in education. I'm trying to imagine how this would work in America, a school in a low-income, gang-ridden area ranked with the same quality as in an affluent suburb? Are we dealing with different variables outside classroom doors, and aren't those made exponentially worse by the cycle of poverty? How do we break it? I also learned about "leveling the playing field" in Denmark. When I was in Copenhagen, I was asking a lot of questions about why they are often ranked so highly in quality of life. A local said, "our greatest resource is our people, so we invest in our people." And he continued, "in our schools, it doesn't matter if you are rich or poor, you will get the same education and have the same opportunities no matter where your family comes from or what your father does." He also was proud to say that, "The CEO of that shipping company over there has exactly the same health insurance as anybody in the country. We are happy because we take care of each other. In America, we pride ourselves on our rugged individualism and the "American Dream," the idea that we can make it big no matter what. But when the odds are stacked against some kids in this way (and I see the inequality every day . . .) I begin to wonder what would happen if we were more collaborative instead of competitive. Competition, in my mind, doesn't just ruin education at the student level, but also at the teacher level, with awards such as "Teacher of the Year," whatever that could mean. In a carefully orchestrated choir, all voices work together for a beautiful blend. At Midnight Mass, for example, as I hung out and struggled to blend with the professional egos in the alto section I could hear a hot mess of egos in the Soprano section. The choir director had to stop and say, "Blend. Calm down. This is a choir. It's too much. I shouldn't hear individual voices." In my mind, teaching is not just a solo act, but more like the blended efforts of that choir and everybody works together to blend and help each other out, even if you are alone standing in front of the classroom. But what about ineffective teachers??? In a system that reveres teachers, it would be about support and development. And I'm just thinking back to other jobs I have done. I was a lifeguard, and there was no "lifeguard ranking system." There was a job to do and we helped each other out. College Professor? There's an evaluation, but it's mostly to help us self improve, and when a boss observes me, has always been supportive and positive. Study Abroad Advisor? We worked together as a team with a common goal. No glorified individuals. Waitress. Food had to be served, and people had to be happy. Some restaurants even "tip share" pooling all the tips together, so a weak link would bring everybody down. Resolution, help that "weak link." We've got it so wrong in this country on so many levels. And instead of working together to fix this massive problem, we argue, point fingers, yell and still, at the end of the day, there are schools like mine with a 50% graduation rate.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"The attack was squarely aimed at the values Norwegians treasure most. Their openness, freedom of expression and feeling of safety have all been shaken to the core," argues Norwegian journalist Liss Goril Anda in her personal viewpoint article on the BBC News website.
I can't stop thinking about Norway.  We all felt so safe in such a peaceful and welcoming country.  Wandering the streets, hiking through the woods, enjoying an ice cream cone outside government buildings.  Such horror in the city that is proud to house the Nobel Peace Center. I can't imagine Norway ever being or feeling the same . . . something has been lost like something was lost and forever changed in America after 9/11.  I just keep reading and thinking about the awful attacks.  I'm heartbroken for the loss of life, the grieving friends and families and a nation in mourning.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My heart goes out to Norway at this awful time.

My heart goes out to Norway. During my three weeks studying in Oslo last summer, I revered the peaceful, happy quality of life in this amazing city in a great and kind country. I am horrified and saddened by these attacks and wish everyone much peace, love and strength during this awful time.

For more information on the twin attacks.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Only Connect!"

In a previous post, I discussed the importance of "Only Connect," a key theme in literature and in philosophy.  While in Denmark, I noticed how I was connecting with a crowd of strangers as we watched something, realizing that we are always looking for ways to connect with others -- that this is such a key component of a rich and fulfilling life.

Well, thanks to my Fund for Teachers Fellowship and my experience in Norway, I have made a fabulous connection with a former student, Gabrielle.  Gabrielle studied "Philosophy for Children" in Oslo, then continued to study with a leading philosopher Oscar Brenifier in France -- eventually becoming a certified philosophical counselor and teaching at St. John's University in Philly.  She saw this blog and eventually found me on facebook where she sent me the following message.  I get to meet both Gabrielle and the philosopher Oscar Brenifier tonight.  Thanks Fund for Teachers!

Subject: HIO connection

Hei Kristin,

So I just stumbled across your blog during a google search of "p4c in museums." It's funny because your blog doesn't address what I'm looking for but, believe it or not, I attended Beate and Bo's first summer course in 2008. What a great experience, right!?!

I had previously studied with the IAPC so the information they presented wasn't so new to me but I developed a deep appreciation for the manifold of methods, practices and approaches that make up the Norsk or Scandinavian version of filosofi med barn. Studying in Oslo had a huge impact on me overall, especially since Beate and Bo introduced me to the French philosopher Oscar Brenifier who I studied with in France the following year and that lead me to eventually becoming a certified philosophical counselor. Did they push Oscar's work when you studied with them?

Somehow what’s more important though is that I absolutely fell in love with Norway when I was there in 2008 - a country I never thought about visiting until I got involved with p4c. And now I anticipate living there at some point in the near future. I could continue to gush about it all but the real reason I decided to post aka write to you - (originally I was just going to post this under one of your pics but then I realized I’d have to make an account, blah blah, so this has become the extended version) - is that I think you and I must have been assigned the same room on Bjerregaardsgate, judging from the angle of your photos.

The sunsets from that student housing building were incredible during the period of the midnight sun. I have many versions of this same photo. ;) The view made me love that room and living in St Hans so much.

Actually so many of our pictures are similar.. eating the same foods, walking the same streets… having wonderful bonding adventures with classmates from all over the world….

But what probably made me the happiest in your pictures though was seeing Marit… lol… I was just waiting for a photo of her to pop up… the one-time-grill in her hand made me crack up…

When I arrived in Oslo in 2008, I was the first international student to show up and it was Marit’s first day working that job… Just after she met me at the bus stop it started pouring rain as we started walking up one of the steep hills toward student housing. One stupid, inconvenient thing happened after the next (like... hmm where'd the keys go?) and it was concerning her cause it was her first day on the job but it was the perfect situation for us to become friends and now almost 3 years later and many adventures behind us (I’ve gone back to Norway a few times), we’re BFF. She’s actually coming to the US this weekend to hang out in Philadelphia with me for 2 weeks so we can celebrate our birthdays together and we’re competing in a tough mudder 10 mile mud run next weekend… Haven’t seen her since I last left Oslo at the end of October… such are long distance friendships.

The other big similarity I noticed from your blog is that we both have a penchants for Rick Steves!! Lol… He too is my travel idol and has given me lots of confidence to explore regions on the world on my own. He did a book tour, I guess last year, for “Travel as a Political Act” and I went to hear him speak and met him in Philly that day. Such a cool guy and I loved that there’s a section of that book on Christiania… Marit and I backpacked through Denmark together in ’08 after the class ended and then I went back there this past summer. Love it there! Haven't made it to Finland but I went to Iceland this past September to study again with Oscar Brenifier and then teach philosophy to kids for a few days in a school there. It was Awesome.

Hmm … I did not intend to write this much but – oh well.. it’s very nice to make your acquaintance . I’d love to learn if or how you're utilizing what Beate and Bo taught you in whatever classroom environment you work in. (perhaps this info is in your blog… I really haven’t read much of it… just skimmed it and then pictures caught my attention. ) I’d also be curious to hear your feedback about the course and Beate and Bo’s delivery. They can be intense but are a very special pedagogical duo. ;)

Tusen Takk for the unexpected trip down memory lane!



Thursday, January 27, 2011

2011 Fellowship Deadline is Friday!

The 2011 Fund For Teachers Fellowship Deadline is this Friday January 28! I strongly urge anyone who qualifies to submit an application. Dream big. I did! :)

I admit I spent quite a lot of time on research, writing, and submitting my proposal.  Yet with determination, there is definitely still time to write one (or finish one you have started).  Last year after all the effort, I decided that even if I did not get in, it was worth it for the joy of dreaming and deciding what would be best for me. I vowed to try to find another way of financing this dream. I am very, very, very gratful to the Fund for Teachers and all the individual donors who made this possible. Sometimes I still can't believe it happened. I'm not crying because it's over. I'm STILL smiling because it happened. :) I have made lifelong friends, learned extremely valuable methods that I have already begun to incorporate in my classroom, and I have close connections with professors in Norway and memories in Denmark and Finland.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

International Museum of Children's Art

This summer, I posted about the International Museum of Children's Art in Oslo and how it was one of my favorite museums . . .ever. I wanted to share this video from their which takes you inside. Since photography was not allowed, this is a great way to catch a glimpse of what I experienced. But of course, nothing replaces walking around, reading children's explanations, and getting a chance to really analyze and enjoy the images as you wander and discover all the inspirational wonders.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Brand New Rick Steves episode of Oslo!

While I was in Oslo this summer, Rick Steves was filming a new season, including a just-aired episode about the fjords and one about Oslo. I almost cried with nostaligic longing as I watched on my new DVD. Rick went to so many of the places we went with the Oslo University College program including the new harbor, the fortress, opera house, Vigeland sculpture park, viking ship museum, folk museum, National Gallery, Munch Museum, ferry rides on the Oslo fjord, and even the cemetary by our dorm in St. Hanshaugen . . . and the quaint, hill leading down through Akers River park towards trendy Grünerløkka, where we always walked to visit our other classmates. What a wonderful compliment to our special time there! In just 3 weeks, Oslo felt like home and I hope to spend more time living there one day. Rick Steves inspired my travel philosophy, I wove his words throughout proposal, and I ran into him in Helsinki during the second part of my fellowship. So cool. Thanks Rick! And thanks to the Philosophers for the wonderful memories.