Those Smart Finns

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article about the Finnish education system, which can boast of posting the highest overall scores in science, math and reading in a recent international comparison. (The U.S. scored just below average among 57 countries.) This is despite the fact that they eschew much of what we demand in our schools:

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7.

What’s more, there’s  no marching band, no prom, so sports. Just school. Notably, Finnish teachers are paid the rough equivalent of U.S. teacher salaries. How can this be?

Well, it seems that Finnish teachers are treated like…professional adults.

The Norssi School is run like a teaching hospital, with about 800 teacher trainees each year. Graduate students work with kids while instructors evaluate from the sidelines. Teachers must hold master’s degrees, and the profession is highly competitive: More than 40 people may apply for a single job. Their salaries are similar to those of U.S. teachers, but they generally have more freedom (emphasis mine).

Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. “In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs,”

I would  have a master’s in education, but I changed course during student teaching, realizing that I’d never survive the “soul crushing bureaucracy.” As the child of two teachers, I was horrified to learn how little respect teachers received from their own institutions. I didn’t know which force was more infantilizing: the government, the parents or the union.

I am interested to hear the opinions of our many MT teachers. What do you think of Finnish education, and could we ever apply their techniques to our admittedly more complicated educational system?


That’s MRS. Chancellor to you, buddy.

I know we’ve discussed the Mrs. vs. Ms. debate before. Here is an interesting twist from the Wall St. Journal’s Wall St. Journal’s Style and Substance Blog:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to be Mrs. Merkel in second references in our pages, at her request, as an alternative to Chancellor Merkel. We had been using Ms.

Her staff indicated that she was following the model of Mrs. Clinton in choosing Mrs. over Ms. or Miss. Unlike Mrs. Clinton’s, however, her surname is that of a previous husband; her current husband has the surname Sauer. Of course, she is also Chancellor Merkel.

The Germans themselves don’t have a problem in deciding between or among honorifics for a woman nowadays because they have generally adopted the use of Frau for all women.

I didn’t know that Sen. Clinton had a preference, and I find it interesting that Mrs. Merkel would put out the effort to change her honorific in English language papers. One reader offered this pro-Mrs. argument that I’d not heard before.

“Women are differentiated by marriage because marriage was traditionally a profession for women. Even today, married women do most of the work of managing their family. I believe “Mrs.” is a mark of respect for that.

What do you think? Does “Mrs.” have superwoman implications? Has our society advanced enough to truly understand the work involved in managing career, marriage, family and household?


The World’s Youngest Political Prisoner

Take a look at Hu Qianci, the Chinese girl who is being called the world’s youngest political prisoner.

From Global Voices Online (some odd grammar–maybe from translation?)

Hu Jia’s family become human ‘state secrets’

And likely very skinny ones at this point, having been locked away from journalists and lawyers and bringers of milk formula for over a month now.

Since AIDS activist-turned house arrested blogger Hu Jia’s arrest, he’s been described as a one-man human rights organization, that bloggers like him are the kind The Party fears most, and that for every Hu Jia silenced, ten more bloggers like him will pop up to take his place; shame, say some, and smooth move others. With Hu’s wife Zeng Jinyan and their 2-month-old daughter Hu Qianci having been under house arrest for over a month now and in effect having been made state secrets of themselves, even more are saying now is the crucial time to be blogging about them.

I don’t have a blog (maybe one day), so I’ll post about them.

You might wonder what these enemies of the state been up to? Well, among other things, they plant trees! Yes, they plant trees to stop the encroachment of the Gobi Desert. Also? Helping to save the endangered Tibetan antelope! What else? Oh, they like to help sick people and orphans! The horror!

What’s more Zeng Jinyan is a social worker. That’s almost like being a terrorist, isn’t it?

Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan are exactly the type of benign, kind hearted activists that scare the bejeezus out of totalitarian regimes like the Chinese government. They are vegetarian Buddhist pacifists who help AIDS victims, work for environmental causes, care about human rights and have the nerve to blog about it.

Last year, Zeng Jinyan was recognized by TIME as one of the Top 100 most influential people in the world. There is a fascinating interview with her here.

I won’t overload you with links in this post, but if you head here, there are several relevant links, including one to the fascinating video series “Prisoners in Freedom City” about the couple’s experience under house arrest in the ironically named BoBo Freedom City (never let it be said that Chinese officials don’t have a sense of humor). Also, you’ll find a link to a petition demanding their release.

I, for one, will be contacting my elected officials to ask that they start making some noise.

But what else can we do? These are things that keep me awake at night. I feel helpless in the face of oppression around the world. Little Qianci isn’t the only infant imprisoned because of her parents political activities. Unfortunately, this happens elsewhere (North Korea, for example).

So MTers—I’m desperate for ideas–what MORE can we do?


Letter from Afghanistan

I got this letter in the mail yesterday. It is from my ‘sister’ in Afghanistan. I sponsor her through Women for Women International. WFWI focuses on women who are coping with life in and after wartime.  They provide job skills and basic human rights education, as well as a monthly stipend…so crucial for these impoverished women. Another goal of the program is to encourage education for children. My sister has known nothing but war and repression in her 40 years. She is widowed, illiterate (having grown up under Taliban rule), lives without electricity or running water, and has five children.

I have been writing to my sister since May, and this is her response to my first letter. She dictated it to someone at her learning center, and yet another person translated it, so pardon the grammatical bumps.

Dear sister,

Accept my best regard hope you are well. I’m from Kabul. It was very comfortable and nice city. As war destroyed everywhere it also destroyed and change to ruin.

I’m too happy to be able to contact with you through women for women program. It is strange and unforgettable event that we find a friend from a country that we just see the map of. I felt (word unknown) there is someone to think about us. I’m the woman that I lost my husband. For many years just my hope was my children. I hoped that my children pass the school and attend in University. Now my eldest son is in Kabul Medical Faculty. I hope to graduate soon. My other children are students. As there are too much problems in different part of life, education is also difficult. The country which come out from war really has too much problem. Inspite of this we struggle to become educated.

We are happy that you have not this problem. It is very difficult for a mother who see the kill or injury of her children. We see it. My 9 year old daughter was killed due to missle and my other 3 year old daughter got severe injuries. This is unforgettable event in my life.

My dear sister. I found that you are from America but I haven’t seen any foreign country. But sometime we watch tv and see America. It is really nice and beautiful and the better thing is the peace in your country. I hope (you) have a good time with your husband. I want to write you another letter soon. I hope you write me soon. I the end thank you for the card you sent. Regards,

She is right:  it is a “strange and unforgettable event that we find a friend from a country that we just see the map of.”

This letter made me cry many times over for many different reasons. My sister’s circumstances could not be more different than mine, yet we share common experiences: the loss of a child, thirst for eduation, love for a good man and the desire for friendship. Just as we find solace, laughter and support through boards like this one, we can also reach further afield to find the spirit of friendship in faraway and unexpected places.