America. Wake up. You’re never going to be Finnish (unless you are actually Finnish-American in which case, Hyvää päivää). I’m getting sick of this obsession with the Finnish education system. It’s not healthy and what’s worse, there is no way you could ever fully emulate it. You’re simply wasting time.

After my growth spurt, I managed to grow to a whopping 5 feet 4-and-three-quarter inches. My arms are disproportionally short for my torso and my hair is a bland, mousey brown. My Irish heritage prevents me from ever achieving a tan. There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to be tall, blonde, and tan but one eventually realizes you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. Besides, tall people die in freak accidents more often than short people, I can always color my hair, pale is beautiful, and I can do a fantastic T-Rex impression. America needs this sort of wakeup call.

Pasi Sahlberg is a Finnish professor who is world-renowned for his efforts in education reform. He was part of a team that drafted Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States. Sahlberg points out that America will never achieve true reform without addressing the following:

  • Funding of schools: Finnish schools are funded based on a formula guaranteeing equal allocation of resources to each school regardless of location or wealth of its community.
  • Well-being of children: All children in Finland have, by law, access to childcare, comprehensive health care, and pre-school in their own communities. Every school must have a welfare team to advance child happiness in school.
  • Education as a human right: All education from preschool to university is free of charge for anybody living in Finland. This makes higher education affordable and accessible for all.

Not that I’m an expert on Finland, but from everything I’ve read it seems the two countries have less in common than they share. Finland got to where they are academically because they approached their education reform from a social perspective. They recognized that no improvements could really take hold until specific issues were addressed socially. 40 years later they have a system that is the envy of the educational world. I’m sure Mr. Sahlberg would agree, America needs to address these issues as well.

Look in the mirror, America. Your children are starving. 16 million, or 1 out of 5, children deal with hunger on a regular basis. Finland’s child hunger rate is below 3%

America, your children are poor. 22% of children in America live in a family that earns below the poverty line. 45% live in families that are considered low-income. Finland’s child poverty is at 5%.

Your children are homeless. Approximately 1.6 million children are homeless annually in the United States. Our homeless population fluctuates between 500,000 to over 2.5 million. Finland? 7877 single homeless, 349 families. They actually have so few they can count them individually.

America, you are not and never will be Finland. Give up your dreams of becoming that tall, slender, blonde because it’s not going to happen. It’s time to get real. You’re great in your own way but jealousy is getting in the way of progress. You have issues that Finland never faced. You are multicultural, multilingual, multifaceted. How is any education reform going to stick when such a huge population of our students are hungry, homeless, and just trying to survive?

We are quick to point blame at teachers, parents, and politicians because it’s the easy route. Tackling issues like hunger and poverty…well, that takes time. It takes time and thought and cooperation, things Americans aren’t used to anymore. The greatness of a country does not exist in the percentage of students using iPads in class. iPads and SMART boards mean jack to the hungry student in the back. Shouldn’t we be addressing these problems first? Everything else seems to pale in comparison.



 Photo credit NEA