Monday, February 11, 2013

Helsinki, S. Korea

Louis Menand recently offered an interesting analysis about education and a society's expectations of what its own education system is and should be doing.  His point isn't to answer this question, but it could have been:

Why are critics and reformers always holding up Finland (the first place finisher in international comparisons of student performance), but you never hear about S. Korea (which came in second place)?

Menand points out that society's create the education system that they want, and that reinforces their social and cultural values.  Nobody in the United States wants S. Korea-style 'cram schools,' where students get extra help late into the night (past 10 PM).  Nor does anybody want to send 90% of primary students for extra tutoring (as S. Koreans do). And certainly nobody wants S. Korea's teenagers, who are reportedly the most unhappy in all the world.

If we acknowledge that social expectations and needs also factor into the assessment of what our schools are doing, and we decide that S. Korea isn't for us, this also requires that we face the way that Finland doesn't necessarily serve as a model whose replication will generate similar outcomes for us.

Are we, then, content to live with the fiction that schools are the great equalizer in American life? 
To rest on the notion--but only the notion, not the reality--that everybody has the opportunity to advance, irrespective of background, family circumstances, and personal developmental history?

Too many people seem to want schools to overcome a child's difficult material or social circumstances.  Schools have been tasked with erasing the deficits of children who arrive far less prepared than their colleagues. 

It's fine if we tell ourselves this is possible, as long as we don't really blame the institution (school) or people (staff) who can't realistically accomplish this task in any enduring way. 

Something of a lie....We do it all the time in politics.

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