Tag Archives: Equality

Children are Finland’s Most Precious Resource: Parenting Without Borders, Part 8

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own.In Part 6, we examined the importance of unstructured “play.” In Part 7,  we explored what education is like in East Asia and in Part 8, we’ll look at education in Finland.

There are many fascinating aspects to education in Finland, especially because they’re so counter to many of the ways we understand education in North America (and East Asia, given the last post in this series, for that matter). Here’s the underlying ideal that guides Finnish education [Emphasis Added]:

Children learn best when they are motivated and when they’re given tools to make responsible and effective choices. Teachers and other adults strive to help kids reach their potential by connecting with them, respecting them, and creating optimal conditions for learning. In Finland, children are regarded as the nation’s most precious resource.

In reading the first part of the quote, it might seem strange that other adults also strive to help kids learn, but as the quote closes, it makes sense. If children are the most important aspect to a country, of course all adults would make strive to foster the development of children.

If you’ve ever come across one of those articles that ranks the education systems of different countries, you should be quite familiar with some of the unorthodox methods used in the Finnish education system. For instance: children don’t begin “academic” education until they’re seven years old; every hour is split into 45 minutes for ‘education’ and 15 minutes for recess (even into high school!); Finnish children spend approximately 300 hours (or ~6 weeks) fewer in elementary school than their counterparts in the USA; and they often have no homework. Oh, don’t forget that there aren’t any specialized programs for gifted children, there aren’t private schools, and there aren’t any high-stakes standardized tests (like the gaokao).

When put in that context, it seems extraordinary that Finns consistently are at the top of global rankings in education. It’s not surprising then, that Gross-Loh dedicated an entire chapter to exploring some of the underlying reasons why this might be the case. She found three “secrets”:

  1. Cultivating High-Quality Teaching
  2. A Variety of Classes Enhance Creativity
  3. The Importance of Setting Up Every Kid for Success

Let’s start with the first one — high-quality teaching. Right off the bat, it’s not easy to become a teacher in Finland. Since the 1970s, all teachers were required to have a Master’s degree. Since the 1970s! If we try and equate that to today’s society, that would be like requiring a PhD. Can you imagine if every teacher in the US had to obtain a PhD before being able to teach (even primary school students!)?

If that analogy isn’t enough, how about this one: “Teachers in Finland are as highly respected as medical doctors in the United States.”

Naturally, it follows that Finland invests quite a bit in their teachers — $30 million a year on professional development. Teachers are continually renewing themselves, which kind of reminds me of the self-cultivation piece of East Asian education.

In the second “secret,” there were two pieces that I found particularly important — Finns want their children to be good at learning how to learn and the emphasis on creative study. In high schools, all Finns must take: Finnish, Swedish, English, math, chemistry, physics, biology, geography, history, social studies, handcrafts, arts, home economics, music, and sports. Not only are Finns educated in science (and foreign languages — sheesh, three languages!?), but there is time and emphasis placed on creative subjects. These topics are emphasized just as much as the sciences because, “teachers believe that creative study transfers to a child’s performance in all subjects.”

The opening sentence from the last ‘secret’: “We can’t afford to waste a brain.” Further to that, in Finland, ‘school readiness’ means that the school is ready to receive and meet the needs of the children (rather than the kids needing to be “ready for school”).

The Finnish way of setting up kids for success means trusting them with many responsibilities even in primary school, so they feel a sense of ownership over their own lives and their education.

An excellent example of this, Gross-Loh has a conversation with a student in Grade 5 who is well-versed in matters of the school budget! If I think back to when I was in Grade 5, I don’t even think I knew what a “budget” was, much less that my school had one, and that I could know about its inner workings.

Two last things I wanted to mention —

Near the end of the chapter, there’s a quote that reminded of an image I’ve seen floating around social media: “Instead of emphasizing global competitiveness, or high individual achievement, the concept guiding almost every educational reform and decision [in Finland] has been equity.”

And finally, in case you want to dismiss the achievements in Finland as being impossible to port to the USA, consider that Finland has the same population as the state of Minnesota.


A Lesson in Overcomplicated: Gender-Neutral Washrooms

If you’ve ever been part of an organization, there’s a better chance than not that you’ve been involved in a meeting where at some point, you found yourself thinking, “what the heck are we doing?” Well, hopefully you’ve found yourself saying that, otherwise you might have fallen into the trap of overcomplicating something.

There was a great (and short!) post on Pacific Standard about the “problem” of a sign for a gender-neutral bathroom:

“But what would you put on the door?!” said a facility manager at an airport, his concern echoed by an administrator at a university: “When people are looking for a restroom, they look for the ‘man’ or ‘woman’ icon. It’s what we know to look for that means restroom.”

And the sign that answers this problem:

Wow, right?

This situation is a perfect example of how overthinking something can lead to a terrible and overcomplicated solution. Is this sign really necessary to signify that there’s a toilet behind the door (or around the corner, in the case of many airports)? Absolutely not.

While there are many problems we can talk about, let’s look at the key issue: false dilemma. Presumably, upon trying to to develop a solution to this problem, the people in the meeting thought that something had to be added to the existing sign. That is, the sign is usually a little man or a little woman, so we’ve got to make it resemble that little man or woman or people might be confused. There are clearly more options than creating that weird looking sign. From the post, there’s this sign offered:

That seems like a pretty good alternative to me. It’s universal in that many people know what a toilet looks like. To be sure, the person who came up with the idea of this pictorial representation took his laptop to a coffee shop to ask patrons if they could hazard a guess as to what was being the sign: 100% of participants were able to identify what would be behind a door with this sign on it. The author, obviously in jest, explained that his research was limited to a corner in Philadelphia, but I think it’s safe to say that most people would be able to perform as well as his participants.

So, the next time you’re in a meeting where your team is trying to come up with an idea that uses an existing structure/idea, double-check that it might not be better to approach the problem from a different perspective.

How Our Culture Failed Women in 2013

I’ve written before about my affinity for the documentary Miss Representation and its “brother” film that’s coming out in a few weeks The Mask You Live In. Well, a few weeks ago, the organization responsible for those movies put out a wonderful — well, in some ways — video detailing the ways in which the media has failed women in 2013. At first, it lists some of the great achievements that women have had this year and then… the video turns a bit sour.

We see a time lapse of a woman being airbrushed on the cover of a magazine, very sexist advertising (magazine and commercial), oversexed music videos, movies, tv shows, and then it turns to how the media cover some news events. There are — seemingly — ignorant men (mostly) patronizing women either in person or talking about women in patronizing ways. However, there are some really powerful moments. There’s a segment from Rachel Maddow where she’s discussing how women can have all of these ticks in the boxes and still get talked to in a negative way. There’s also — and this is my favourite — a video from this past summer when the Texas legislature was trying to ram a bill through that severely limited the rights of women regarding abortion.

I realize that for some, this can be an issue that incites a lot of passion in one direction or the other, but my preference for the video has nothing to do with that issue and everything to do with this woman, this strong and powerful woman, standing up for herself and for women to what is a room and a profession dominated by men. I remember when the now famous Wendy Davis filibuster was first starting to take shape in June and I remember turning on the stream sometime in the evening and having it running in the background. And then as they got closer to the end when things were really getting interesting. I remember trying to understand some of the wonky ways that procedure was being applied and then I remember Leticia Van de Putte…

It was one of the most powerful things I’d ever seen live. And if I recall correctly, I think these words were enough to motivate the gallery (the visitors sitting up above watching) to make noise until the clock ran out and the filibuster worked. Again, I want to make it clear that I’m not arguing in favour or against the merits of the filibuster, but just to draw your attention to that moment when Leticia Van de Putte said those words and the crowd erupted. I wish it weren’t, but it seems an apt metaphor for so much of how the world works today.


On a slightly happier (?) and stranger point, in an edition of The Economist from late last year, someone pointed out that Angela Merkel, the Chancellor (kind of like a President or Prime Minister) of Germany, appointed a female defence minister. And not only was this defense minster going to be a woman, but also that she is a gynecologist, entered politics at age 42, and has 7 children.

I think it’s great that Germany has appointed a female defence minister, but I wish that it weren’t news that Germany appointed a female defense minister. I look forward to the time in my life where the fact that someone’s been appointed to high political office or has been crowned the CEO of a big corporation and happens to also be a female is not newsworthy.

Note: You’ll notice that I made the title of this post about “our culture” and not “the media” and that’s because I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to pin the failure all on the media. There’s a feedback loop between our culture and the media. Yes, the media could certainly end that feedback loop, but so could the culture. In a way, everyone deserves a bit of the blame.

What Will the Obamas Do in 2017?

Today’s been a bit hectic. I rode the bus from downtown Ottawa to get to the airport. The “hectic-ness” stems from the fact that it was quite snowy outside. The visibility was quite poor and I was sure my flight would be delayed (it wasn’t). Right now, I’m sitting in the Toronto Island Airport (not the much more known Toronto Airport, which is actually almost in Mississauga) and waiting for my next flight.

In amongst my travels today, I had the chance to see Pres. Obama’s speech at Nelson Mandela’s memorial. I knew that it was today, but I also knew I wouldn’t have much time to watch it today. As I was getting ready to board the bus in Ottawa, I saw some folks on Twitter talking about this being one of Obama’s best speeches yet. He’s certainly delivered some doozies in his time, so I wondered if the rhetoric was hyperbole. As it turns out — it’s not. I buffered the speech and watched it at 30,000 feet. It was… awesome. And I don’t mean awesome in the way that the word has been co-opted to mean as a form of slang. The speech was awesome.

There were so many great portions of the speech that I’d be hear all day if I were excerpting. One part in particular I wanted to highlight:

The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important.

Essentially, we’re not finished, yet. We’ve still got work to do. (If you want to watch video of the speech, this is all I could find with airport WiFi.)

Update: as expected, there’s a YouTube video of the speech.

Pres. Obama is the 44th President of the United States, so he belongs to a unique club of people. No doubt, history will remember him. However, he’s also one of the youngest presidents in a time in history where people are living longer than ever. As a result, I’m infinitely curious as to what the Obamas will do post-White House. For instance, look at Bill and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton went on to be a United States Senator and then the Secretary of the State (and maybe one day, President). Bill (along with Hillary) created a foundation and have been effecting change the world over.

There are probably an infinite number of things that the Obamas could get into, but I wonder which issue excites them the most. That is, where do they want to leave their mark on history. Given the way that Pres. Obama speaks about equality, social justice, and social rights, it seems like a natural fit for him.

Of course, the Obamas probably aren’t thinking about that right now, but that time is not too far away for them. We’re almost finished with 2013 and the 2014 midterm elections aren’t even a year away. After that, it’s essentially “open season” on candidates announcing their intentions to run for President.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Almost Didn’t Give the “I Have A Dream” Speech

A few weeks ago, I happened to be visiting the Lincoln Memorialagain. While I still live in DC, it seems prudent to take advantage of this opportunity that many Americans (and non-Americans!) only get when they’re on vacation. Anyway, while at the Memorial, I happened to stop and listen to a tour guide who was talking about Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s famous speech. Not ironically, he was talking about it because he was standing on (or thereabouts) the same spot where MLK delivered the speech in the 60s. The spot (just in front of) the Lincoln Memorial is the highest one is allowed to give a speech from.

Anyway, that’s a bit tangential to the point of this post, so let’s get to it. As the tour guide was speaking, he was explaining how MLK came to be on those steps on that fateful day in August of 1963. The speech was one of nine keynote addresses (Note: I’ve been looking for this statistic somewhere online and haven’t found it, so I could be misremembering exactly what the tour guide said). MLK didn’t sit down to write the speech until the night before the address, as he’d been pretty busy with the events of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The night before, MLK along with some of his most trusted advisors (Clarence Jones being one of them), sat down to write the draft. When they were finished, MLK went back to his room with the speech. The next day, while giving the speech, Jones noted that MLK had done quite a bit of deviation from the draft they’d written the night before.

The most remembered part of the speech, “I Have A Dream…” was not part of the original draft. Surprised? I certainly was when I heard the guide say this. Would you also be surprised to know that MLK first gave the speech when he was a teenager? He first delivered the speech in church when he was a teenager. It had been something that he’d worked on and given before, but as I said, it wasn’t part of the original text he was to deliver on August 28, 1963. So, then, how did he come to say those famous words?

Mahalia Jackson.

She was MLK’s favorite gospel singers and one of the few women near the podium on that day in August. Here’s a short clip of Clarence Jones speaking with Tavis Smiley about the book he published in 2011 called: Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation. In the clip, Clarence Jones explains that it was Mahalia who shouted out to MLK, “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” (Note: WordPress won’t let me embed the video from PBS, but you can watch it here. Jones talks about Mahalia very early on in the interview.)

Incredible, eh? Can you imagine how different the USA world would be if MLK hadn’t given that speech that day? Can you imagine how different it’d be if Mahalia hadn’t shouted to MLK to tell ’em about the dream?

And if you’re interested, the text of the speech.