Dear Deborah, I want to be first in line to shout "hosanna" to your call for courtesy. I place courtesy up there in a pantheon alongside the cultivation of character and civic responsibility, as virtues that are intertwined and that do indeed help to make possible a democratic society. Indeed, without courtesy, character, and civic responsibility, I don't see how a democratic society can emerge or survive. So, yes, let us agree that these are noble goals that should be embedded in the daily life of every school, because without them, schools cannot achieve any goals other than babysitting or ...


Dear Diane, The question may be: Which aspects of the Finnish “answer” are most pertinent? Maybe we should simplify our alphabetic system, maybe we should improve healthcare, maybe we should have a more homogeneous society, maybe a national curriculum. America’s “genius” has rested not on its fixed intellectual “tradition,” but on its enormous and equal respect for “practical smarts”—including thinking outside the box intellectually. We can force an artificial curricular consensus. But teachers forced to teach it, and students to learn it, will not succeed as well as they might in Finland—because their students are coming at...


Dear Deborah, Time to disagree. Finland is the answer. No, I don't mean that we should or can copy Finland, but that we can learn from the remarkable synthesis that Finland has achieved. Their schools meet all or most of your pedagogical criteria—they "focus on a playful and wonder-filled childhood," and they prize teacher autonomy and school autonomy. Yet they do so within the context of a specific and carefully wrought national core curriculum. What is essential for children in urban areas is also essential for children in the remote rural areas. Teachers are free to be creative and ...


Dear Diane, I agree, Finland is not the answer. That’s my point! There isn’t one. Or even two or three. We can learn from others, but in the end we are responsible for using what we learn in our own setting—place, time, history and, of course, values. It’s instructive—for me—to realize that the Finns focus on a playful and wonder-filled childhood, and postpone teaching reading until kids are 7 or older. It might be, as one blogger commented, that Finnish phonemes are simpler and thus one can learn to read faster there. Or it...


Dear Deborah, As you know, Americans have a long history of looking to other countries for answers to our educational problems. In the 19th Century, American educators traveled to Prussia to see the wonders of its national education system. In the 1960s, the British education system became the American educational Mecca because of its demonstrations of infant education and open classrooms (with an occasional side trip to Summerhill). Recently, Finland has won admiration for its educational accomplishments—not long ago in a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal, and now in your address to your colleagues at the Forum...


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