We Have a Speech Pathologist

After 4 months of calling people, waiting, calling more people, waiting more and not having people call us back, we finally have a speech therapist and it’s right close to home.

As some of you might remember, we originally went to the The Local Public School’s speech therapist to get Alpha’s speech evaluated. We had our first evaluation in February and our second one a month later, during which she told she’d like us to find someone who could evaluate his speech in German before moving forward. I called her twice since then and the second time, she never called back. Now it’s summer and I don’t know that she’s actually still available, so I don’t know if I’ll even bother.

However, when we took Alpha to be evaluated for motor skill weeknesses, I discussed our difficulties finding a speech pathologist with the occupational therapist and she said she’d talk to their speech therapist. Lo and behold, she called us back and said that their speech therapist had had German in high school and was willing to see Alpha and see what she could do.

At the end of his evaluation, she used the iPad to occupy him and talked to me about his speech. “Even without being fluent in German, I can tell that he qualifies for speech therapy in the public school system as he definitely has developmental speech delays.” Her evaluation showed that he has difficulties with the following sounds: N, H, D, G, V, th, TH, L, Er, S, Z, Sh, Z, Sh, Zh, Ch, and Dj. Furthermore, all blends are reduced. Sl becomes a mispronounced L, sp becomes p and gr become a rough g. “Looking at all the sounds he has difficulties with, it’s no wonder he’s hard to understand.” Her opinion was that the speech therapist in our town simply didn’t want to deal with a complicated case and was basically hoping we’d find someone else.

I’m a bit annoyed about that because, first of all, as property owners, a significant amount of our taxes directly pay for the schools. Secondly, since we have children, we are entitled to send our children there for special needs services, even if we don’t send our children to that school. When she asked us what our educational plans were, I told her honestly that we planned on homeschooling because we disagreed paedegogically with the way schools were run. I don’t know if that counted against me, I know of other homeschooling families in the area who use special services from the school. Lastly, throughout all of our contact, she spoke very politely about us raising our son multilingually and couched her statements with things like, “I want to deal with this politely, I don’t want to offend,” and so on and so forth. Now I feel like she was using these statements to express her dislike of the situation instead of honestly expressing herself because nowadays the vast majority of speech pathologists should be aware that raising a child multilingually is not a problem and there is no evidence suggesting multilingual children exhibiting speech disorders do better with one language.

Plus, she always spoke in this high-pitched baby voice that was seriously annoying.

Our current speech therapist is much more up front and direct with us, which I like.  This past week, DH took Alpha there to get a vocabulary test done because she wanted to see where his vocabulary was in all of his languages. She told DH afterwards that based on his performance in the speech evaluation, she would have pegged him at being about 16 months behind in both enunciation and vocabulary. But his performance in the vocabulary test suggested this is not true. Since my husband took him, they were able to do vocabulary tests in all three languages. The speech therapist did English, then my husband translated the words into Finnish and German. German was a bit tricky since DH didn’t know all the words and was incapable of pronouncing some of them so that Alpha could understand.  At any rate, with 100 being normal for a child of his age, he scored 99 in German, 98 in Finnish and 92 in English. A standard deviation was 15 points away from 100 in either direction. His results place him firmly in the normal range for vocabulary. It’s important to note that this isn’t necessarily a kosher method of measuring vocabulary in multilingual children, but it’s the best we could do. She also tested active vocabulary and he scored much lower: 84, which puts him at one standard deviation below the norm. However, she commented that she didn’t count this as a valid score as Alpha was visibly tired when they started this test, failed to answer many of the questions and a lot of his responses were incomprehensible as a result. They also ended before they reached the minimum number of questions necessary to calculate an accurate result. So she recommends retesting in 6 months when his pronunciation has improved.

Overall, I’m very happy with how she’s handling Alpha’s case. She notes that it is a unique situation and has said multiple times that while she is fluent in disordered 4 year old speech, she isn’t fluent in German or Finnish but is willing to give it her best shot. Unfortunately, she’s moving. Why does this always happen to us?

The good news is that she has faith in her replacement. She has also recommended we not start therapy until the end of July when her replacement takes over since it would be easier on Alpha to have one therapist to stick with instead of getting used to two. Once the replacement is working, Alpha should be in speech therapy one to two times a week in the beginning along with exercises at home.

I’m glad we’re finally making progress, it’s refreshing and I look forward to being able to understand the long garbled sentences that come out of Alpha’s mouth.

Polygamy and Other Fun Things to Do

I sprained my foot last weekend and since then, I’ve been spending so much time sitting on my butt that I’ve basically exhausted the internet. One of my particular interests of late has been religious fundamentalists and lately, polygamists.

I read both books by Carolyn Jessop, Escape and Triumph and bought the series Polygamy USA. I watched a couple seasons of Sister Wives ages ago and wasn’t too impressed and Polygamy USA left me with that same ‘why is everyone lying?’ feeling.

[If you haven’t watched the series, read the reviews from the Sister Wives Blog, which are really funny and apt (though I think she’s still missing a few episodes).]

“We’re happy!” They insist. “It’s not always easy, but nothing worth having is!” “Being polygamous is an expression of our religious freedom! It’s a tenet of our beliefs!”

When I hear them talk, I think of how I felt when I practiced attachment parenting. I was deeply unhappy. But if you had asked me then if I was happy, I would have said I was because the exhaustion and lack of time to myself were exactly how I thought motherhood was supposed to be. Since I didn’t expect anything else, I had no idea that I could feel any different.

When I started seeing a therapist to deal with my postpartum depression, she told me that in one session when I was trying to defend my AP practices that she has treated Jehovah’s Witnesses before and she always has to tell them that she can help them, but only if they’re willing to question some of their beliefs. If they aren’t, then there is nothing she can do. Later, she told me that a lot of the things I was experiencing were similar to what people who have left their religion experienced.

I really, firmly believed that attachment parenting was the one true way to raise children and the only way I could ensure my kids would grow up healthy, well-adjusted adults. For that, I was willing to sacrifice my happiness.

How lucky for me that I came to realize sacrificing my happiness is not necessary to achieve that goal! I can, in fact, have my cake and eat it, too. Since undergoing therapy and changing my parenting to create more room for me, I am literally the happiest I’ve been since before Alpha was born. And I know my kids will be better off for it, too. As my therapist said, they don’t need the perfect mother, they just need a mother–preferably a happy one.

I wish the women in Polygamy USA would realize the same. They do not need a man to enter heaven–they can get there on their own. If living polygamy is so hard and challenging, wouldn’t they rather have one happy life here, on Earth (which is, by the way 100% guaranteed to actually exist. I know of no such guarantees attached to the afterlife, YMMV).

The sad thing is that Polygamy USA and the earlier documentary by Lisa Ling (which is also linked to on the Sister Wives blog) are meant to show religious polygamy in its best light. And, at best, it comes across as a system that results in women having a ton of children, which they raise basically as single mothers. This is caused by the fact that one man simply cannot support 3 adult women who have at least 5 kids each–it’s impossible. In the Cawley Family, both the husband, two of the wives and the oldest daughter work. This leaves the first wife, Rose, at home by herself with 9 kids under 5.

The “Thomsons”–real last name Timson, I believe, portray themselves as the Model Polygamist Family. They’re young! They’re hip! They wear really high heels and make up! And they disturb me. Marlene is about my age, 28. She states emphatically that she and her husband are not from Centennial Park, but moved there. This is not a lie, but it does not appear to be the entire truth either. I don’t get the feeling that they converted to polygamist mormonism. Instead, I get the feeling that they moved from the Salt Lake area–where a good number of polygamists live–to live in Centennial Park. In fact, until the late 80s, “The Third Ward” was part of “The Second Ward” (as the Centennial Park group is also known), which in turn split from “The First Ward,” which would be the FLDS right down the road from Centennial Park in Colorado City, AZ. The fact that Timson is the last name of one of the founders of Centennial Park supports this and my belief that changing their last name was meant to be intentionally misleading.

At anyrate, Marlene has become a spokeswoman for polygamy and their goal of getting polygamy decriminalized. Note that they want it decriminalized, not legalized. She’s been popping up all over the internet lately and even had a reddit thread where she answered questions about her faith. She asserts that people in Centennial Park aren’t getting government benefits or using food stamps, but I find this to be highly suspect. If they aren’t, then why don’t they want it legalized? It is defacto decriminalized considering the fact no one has been arrested for polygamy in ages and Utah has stated they won’t go after polygamist, just abuses arising from polygamy. I find exactly nothing she says about it not being abusive convincing. Just because there’s no physical abuse, doesn’t mean there isn’t emotional abuse or spiritual abuse going on. “It’s not always easy, jealousy are human emotions I have to overcome, but I chose this life!” She and her sister wife keep saying. What they don’t realize is that they can also unchoose it, but just like me choosing to AP, it’s hard to un-choose something you firmly believe is The Best Way to Live, even if it really makes you miserable.

Also rather inaccurate appear to be all the claims by Tiffany, girlfriend to Ezra. She talks about how her parents are not polygamous and she’d never really been religious before. This gives the appearance of wow! A non-mormon girl who’s not particularly religious is willing to consider and accept polygamy! Except she’s not. From the comments on the Sister Wives blog, it appears she moved to Centennial Park 2 years ago and while her parents may not be polygamist, plenty of her relatives are. She certainly didn’t grow up without religion the same way I grew up without religion. Since Tiffany is 17, I have little doubt her parents had to give their approval for her to be in this show and that she receives no small amount of support in her decision to enter into a relationship with a polygamous man.

[Before I was born, my family was Mormon, but they left the church for various reasons. Thus my religious exposure consisted of my mom buying me a bible coloring book and telling me that it’s important for me to know about the bible stories and other kids trying to convert me on the playground.]

Even worse is Rosemarie, oldest daughter of the first wife and Michael Cawley (who has become known as the Applesauce Tyrant. Heh.). She has just turned 18 and has been praying for two years for God to find her a husband so she can get married. But since no name comes to her, she ‘turns herself in’ to the Brethren–the men who are in charge of Centennial Park and are responsible for approving all marriages in the community–to allow them to pick a name for her. I can’t help but wonder several things: 1) Why is she so damn eager to get married? I get the dim feeling that life at home isn’t so smooth at all–maybe her mothers don’t along well. Her father certainly seems creepy enough on TV. Maybe she’s tired of taking care of everyone’s kids. Whatever the reason is…it seems odd. 2) If she hasn’t gotten a name yet, maybe she should take that as a sign that god wants her to go to college and do something else with her life instead of getting married and popping out babies. Except for the fact that they’ve been told everyday of their lives that being in a polygamous relationship and having babies is woman’s only purpose and the only way for them to enter the highest level of heaven. She and her sister discuss not being able to have babies in the kitchen and her sister– who is only 15!–breaks down crying at the thought!

Lastly, there’s the one telling line that National Geographic left in where Hyrum asks a girl to dance and he jokes to her that he was afraid she would say no and she replies, “We’re not allowed to say no.” He quickly covers by saying, “you’re allowed to say no. Women have all the choice! It’s us guys who don’t have a choice!” This line rang tons of bells from Carolyn Jessop’s book, Escape, in which she describes community dances she attended as a teenager. These dances had rules and one of those rules were that girls were not allowed to say ‘no’ to any man who asked them to dance–largely because they were likely to say no to older men and favor the younger men. But they were allowed to stampede. Whenever an older man would approach the single girl’s, a girl would give a signal and they would all bolt out of the gym and come back only when the coast was clear, or if one of their numbers missed the signal and ended up dancing with the old man. These dances she described took place before the FLDS split into FLDS and “The Work,” as Centennial Park is also known. I have a very strong feeling that the same rules Carolyn Jessop described are still in place in Centennial Park. Women aren’t allowed to say no.

This rather blows a hole into all their protests that women have the choice! Yes, women can pray for inspiration, but the Brethren make the final decision on who they marry. And according to Rosemarie’s mom, Rose, if the brethren pick a man and you don’t like the name, you cannot say no. You do nothing. You have to accept that choice.

As a libertarian, I’m totally cool with consenting adults doing whatever they want. I don’t think government should be involved in deciding who can and cannot be married–whether the marriage be between one man and one women, two men, two women, or 15. However, I do believe government needs to be involved in making sure that these marriages are entered into with informed consent. Both parties consent to the marriage and both parties enter the marriage knowing what they are getting into–having a good idea of who the other person is and being reasonably sure they can live with them. I don’t see either of this in Centennial Park. The one couple who does get married in the course of this show has two weeks to get to know each other before they are married and they admit in the beginning they don’t know each other at all. Not a good sign. If Hyrum doesn’t like his bride, he can’t say no. He just has to hope that eventually, the Brethren hook him up with a wife he does like. If Rosemarie doesn’t like her husband, she doesn’t have a choice. She’s stuck. She doesn’t get to hope for a second husband, a second chance at happiness. And that goes for here and the hereafter.

Finnish Schools vs. American Schools, Round 2

In Part One, we established that Finland’s educational system has a few advantages to the US: 1) Finland is a very homogenous country 2) Finnish is 99% phonetic and 3) Finland is so fucking cold, kids would rather spend all their time inside reading than outside playing.

I made up the last point.

But point number 3 is what I would like to start off discussing because the opposite is true. Compared to Americans, Finnish children spend way more time outside playing than they do inside schools. Whenever my husband informs me didn’t start first grade until the September after he turned 7, I think he’s making things up. “But it’s different than the US,” he assures me. “When you start first grade in Finland, you have to sit and learn all day. ”

I asked him how long all day was.  “From about 8am to noon.”

For comparison’s sake, the year he turned 7 was 1989, the same year I turned 5 and started Kindergarten. We both went to school the exact same hours, 8-12.  But before that, I had been to preschool. My memories of preschool are vague and consist mainly of that kid on the playground who kept chasing all the girls and a robotic school bus that explained safety to us, but I think it was also half-day most days of the week. My mom credits preschool as the reason I turned out so much better than my siblings (I’m the golden child. I’m not actually better).

In Finland, 5 year olds don’t go to Kindergarten. They go to daycare where they spend all day playing (the link is about Sweden but my husband says they are virtually the same). When they’re six, they might start preschool, which was two hours a day one day a week when my husband was that age. Now it’s 2 hours a day 5 days a week. My 4 year old goes to preschool as many hours a week as a Finnish 6- year old and I’m keeping him in preschool instead of advancing him to Kindergarten because Kindergarten would be 8:30 to 3:30 five days a week and I think that’s just a tad bit excessive for a five year old.

What are Finnish kids doing with their oodles of free-time? Playing, specifically outside. Finns value being outside so much, they put their kids to sleep outside (something I may do with our next baby because I read an article saying spending more time outside reduces the need for glasses. Americans need to have proof, preferably in the form of an internet article, before they’ll change their ways).  I saw this when we were there over Christmas. Even when it was bitterly cold, all the kids from the daycare my son visited were playing outside most of the time. His grandma took him sledding in the dark. We took walks in the dark and saw numerous other Finnish children dressed like Randy, wobbling around eerie well-illuminated snow-covered streets.

New studies are starting to show that kids learn more during play than they learn in school. I envision it like cooking a soup: you put a few things in the pot and then let it simmer a long time. So give the kids a few hours of good, actual information and then leave them alone. They will think about it and do things with it that you probably wouldn’t have thought of.

As a consequence, my husband didn’t learn to read or write until he was 7 because he was not being actively taught to read, he was enjoying himself and learning things important to a 6 year old. A few kids in his class could read and write by first grade, but this was definitely the exception and not the norm.

More time for play of the things that the Finnish educational system does better that we can easily implement in the American school system. At least, if it weren’t for a few pesky cultural differences.

In comparison to my husband, I remember learning to read and write when I was in Kindergarten and reading books by myself when I was in 6 (and in first grade). Guess which one of us wears glasses. By today’s standards in the US, this is painfully late. It seems like all the kids my son’s age in his preschool class are writing better than he is. It’s normal for parents to have 4 or even 3 year olds who are reading (How will you know? The same way you’ll know if someone is vegan: they’ll tell you).  This is because the most important trait for American parents to see in their kids is being SMART. Not having a kid reading and writing by age 6 is like walking with your kids wearing a shirt that says “I’m with stupid.” My sister’s hometown has started a new all day Kindergarten program where they will spend most of their time learning how to read.

We’re so intent on getting kids to do things early, we forget that there are certain developmental milestones necessary to reading and writing that don’t happen until kids turn 6 or 7. I got my son evaluated for fine and gross motor skill weaknesses on the recommendation of his teacher and the therapist basically told me not to worry because the fine motor skills necessary to write don’t develop in kids until about age 6 or 7. “But nowadays everyone wants kids to start writing sooner,” she added apologetically.

So, even if having less school and teaching our kids things later would make them do better in school in the long run, we would never actually have less school because it would make us feel like our kids are stupider in the short run. And, as a nation, Americans want things NOW.

The second reason we would never go for shorter school days, weeks, and years is because we need to work. Finns also work, but Finland helps pay for childcare. I can vouch that the daycare we sent Alpha to for about two weeks while we were in Finland cost about 5 Euros a day vs. 100 a week for his preschool in the US and he could have stayed at the daycare in Finland all day if we wanted him to. But since we were too lazy to get up early, he went around 10 and we got him around 3. They also have paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers that mean at least one parent can stay home with their baby for their first year of life. My sister and brother in-law both stayed home for the first 3 months of my niece’s life and my sister-in-law went back to work when she was about a year old.  And remember, daycares in Finland are called “Kotipäivä,” day homes, not “Educational Learning Center Deluxe!” like they are in the US.

So Americans use schools as a form of subsidized daycare. For a bit extra, they will keep your kid from 7am to 5:30pm, too. So Americans send their 5 year olds to school all day not just because ‘it will make them smarter,’ but because it’s financially necessary.

Of course, to be fair, it’s important to remember that Finns pay a lot more in taxes for these services than Americans pay not to have them. But to be really fair, I think I’d rather have subsidized daycare for my kids than the ability to bomb a bunch of other kids’ houses. Just a personal preference, I guess.

Also, the Finnish tax system makes it virtually impossible to be a stay-at-home mom as it’s known in the US. In Finland, you cannot deduct spouses or claim spouses. So if you stay at home and don’t work, your spouse can’t deduct that. Everyone files taxes as an individual.

But daycare isn’t the only difference. Remember, 7 year olds go to school for 4 hours a day while both of their parents are working full-time. There is no daycare for 7 year olds. When my husband’s school was out for the day, he was on his own for the rest of the day. The story is largely the same for Finnish 7 year olds today. They walk themselves to school, walk them selves home and take care of themselves until mom and dad come home sometime after 5. I know exactly zero American parents who would be alright with this. One of my friends once called me irresponsible for even thinking my son would be fine staying home by himself by the time he was 8. Compared to the amount of freedom and individual responsibility Finnish kids are given, American kids are living in North Korea, albeit with better electronics and internet access. Oh, fine: more food, too.

We could wait to teach our kids to read and write before age 7 and give them shorter school days and years, but we won’t because our culture doesn’t value that. We value smartness and doing things now and no amount Finland beating us on the PISA study will convince us otherwise.

The Finnish Schools vs. American Schools, round 1

A while back, my sister found this article about the Finnish education system in The Atlantic and asked my husband what he thought of it. A lot of the information in this blog post has been retailored from that response.

The most dreadful time of my life has been at the end of the first quarter every third year since 2001. That’s when a new Programme for International Student Assessment (also known as the “Pisa study”) usually comes out, and since I’m unfortunate enough to be both Finnish as well as a social scientist, people seem to think that I’m willing
(false) and able (true) to discuss the topic.

So before dwelling into the specifics of the article, let’s have a little philosophical discussion about education and the Pisa study. The foremost problem with this Pisa (or monkey) business is that the study is essentially measuring public school performance between different countries, after which everyone wants to implement the policies found in the winning country in their own school systems. There are many political and cultural problems with this approach (some of which are briefly discussed far below), but even if there weren’t, the central problem is that a public school is hardly the best possible way of maximizing educational outcome, while minimizing its cost. In other words, the Pisa study is like the Special Olympics – where even the winners are still… well… “special” – not the pinnacle of human achievement.

Even more fundamental questions center around issues such as 1) why does it take forever to educate somebody, 2) how much education is necessary, 3) what’s the purpose of education, 4) what other ways are there to organize education? A close relative of mine who has been a teacher for over 30 years, revealed to me about five years ago that with the internet the main purpose of schools has become to babysit old kids while their parents work. Please keep that in mind when
reading my point-by-point reply to this article:

But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life — Newsweek ranked it number one last year

I want to make one remark studies like these. Most of these studies that place a Nordic country on top are combination studies that assess between a few and a dozen factors, and most OECD/developed countries score high on most of these variables. However, there’s always one or two variables where a given OECD country (such as the US) scores
relatively poorly on, e.g. average lifespan, carbon footprint, equality, healthcare costs, class mobility etc. Due to this
discrepancy, the US is weighed down enough to lose the top status (or one of the top statuses) to a Nordic country/the Nordic countries. In terms of pure materialism – largest amount of appliances/gadgets (e.g. very few people in a place like Finland have a dryer and dishwashers aren’t common either), highest purchasing power adjusted per capita,
newest cars, largest houses, biggest yards etc. the US is way, way above anything seen in the Nordic countries. From my personal perspective, my salary and living standard are far higher in here than I could ever dream of in Finland. This doesn’t mean that the issues mentioned above (lower average lifespan, larger carbon footprint etc.) wouldn’t be significant societal problems, it simply means that they act as what de facto determines the ranking of countries in specific
studies. Many of these studies are from the get go driven more by politics than by reality (the PISA study doesn’t have these flaws though).

Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play.

Yes, and they also have shorter work weeks in school and one of the shortest school years in OECD with ample amounts of vacation time. I believe that this model is largely successful simply because schools are damaging to a child’s learning, thinking and imagining abilities as well as overall wellbeing, hence less time in school equals better results.

Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees.

This is true. It used to be slightly different. Until about 5 years ago or so the private institutions were allowed to charge, however these fees were often modest. I went to one of Finland’s best private schools and my parents paid 1,000€ ($1,300) for it per year.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

True and I think the system works well overall. However, like the article points out, teachers in Finland also rate students on a yearly basis. This is done honestly without grade inflation. To give you an example, on a scale of 5 to 10 (4 is considered an F) the undersigned graduated with an average of 6.8 (equivalent to a 1.44 GPA) from what could be considered the Middle School, whereas the national average is 8.0 (2.4). By comparison the average GPA in the US is 3.0 these days, and a huge amount of kids receive straight As. The only criticism I have for the Finnish Matriculation Exam as well as the university entry exams that follow, is that they are all based on the ability to quickly digest a huge number of books and vomit it on the test paper, instead of being more IQ/potential achievement based like the SAT etc. tests in the US are.

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.

The prestige and responsibility aspects are certainly correct. I will leave the wage issue up for debate, but here are some statistics. The median (which is very close to the arithmetic mean that people often refer to as “average”) teacher in Finland makes 42,612€/year ($55,496), whereas the median (again, close to “average) employee makes 43,860€/year ($57,018). However, the median primary care physician in Finland makes 80,916€/year ($105,191) and the median
VP/CxO 67,236€/year ($87,407). On a yearly basis in the US the median teacher makes $52,000, the median worker $28,000, the median primary care physician $186,000, and the median VP/CxO $228,000.

Please do note that the wages for Finnish workers above are very accurate due to the fact that these are publicly recorded and wage discrepancies are virtually impossible (i.e. a teacher in the center of Helsinki and a teacher living in a tiny northern village make almost the same amount) and the benefits are essentially the same, with the exception of the teachers being able to enjoy roughly 1 month extra vacation in comparison to the other Finnish workers. The retirement benefits – on a US standard – are however poor. The statistics on the US wages are harder to reliably measure and fluctuate widely based on who is measuring and what. The VP/CxO salaries would also effectively be ten times higher if it would focus only on the Fortune 100.

So the answer to the question of a “decent pay” depends on how you define it. If you think that decent is making roughly the average in your country and about half of what doctors and 2/3rds of what VPs/CxOs make, Finland is a better deal for you. On the other hand, if you prefer to rather make twice as much as the mean employer, but a quarter of what physicians and VP/CxOs make, then the US is a better place. In both countries the teachers effectively make up the same amount of money. In my opinion the US will probably offer a slightly better deal due to better overall benefits, lower tax burden and
higher purchase power parity adjustment.

 There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

While there are no direct list of best schools in Finland, it is widely know what the, say, top dozen high schools in Finland are. Similarly, parents are often well aware of the best high school in their area and select accordingly. Otherwise, I’d say that the atmosphere is in general more cooperative than competitive.

Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.

This is largely true. The choices are mostly the same. The private school I attended was a language focused school. Before I got to high school I had more or less reached native fluency in Swedish, Finnish and English, gotten good German skills (other students could choose French instead) and basic skills in Russian (other students could choose Spanish instead). Similarly, a few private schools focus on sciences/maths (these finish about one college year ahead of the
non-science/math schools). There are also religious schools, but the education in these is largely the same. There’s more bible studies and more religious elements during the day, but the curriculum is otherwise exactly the same. This means in practice that every attendant of a religious school has to know (despite whether they believe in it or not) that the universe began from big bang, the earth is round and circles the sun, humans evolved and how/why the evolution mechanism works etc. They also have to know the main theological differences between a dozen Christian sects, the differences between the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhism etc. main lines, and also why some people don’t believe in god. In other words, the approach of the authorities is pretty much that you 1) have to teach everything in the curriculum, 2) you can’t actively teach against it (e.g. by first teaching evolution and then spending extra time un-teaching it), 3) and you have the choice of adding extra hours to your work week, if you want the kids to learn something extra (e.g. German).

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

This is true when it comes to the likely reasoning behind what was done and why. However, it’s not as perfect as people think. There are public schools especially in Turku and Helsinki from wealthier neighborhoods that give an edge to the kids that go to them, because a larger proportion of those kids are more likely to get to better universities and start out with better networks. For example, from my class mates 88% got an university education. Of those 21% got a bachelor’s degree, 44% got a master’s degree, 21% got two master’s degree (including me), and 14% got doctoral degrees.
These numbers are orders of magnitudes higher than the Finnish average. Furthermore, Finland does have a large “periphery” area (Lapland and Eastern Finland) kind of like the southern part of Italy, Scotland in the UK or some of the poorer US states. It would be difficult to get a good start from those regions.

Another question one should ask in this context is what the value is of NOT having star performers (or many of them). The schools, or especially top universities, are so well known all over the world that everyone with an academic institution knows about the Ivy League, the Seven Sisters, MIT, Berkeley, John Hopkins and Duke. In fact, of the top 10 universities in the world 6 are from the US (the rest 4 are from the UK) and of the top 100 universities in the world 31 come from
the US. Of the Finnish universities the only one that makes the big list is located somewhere on the very bottom of it.

Finland is a relatively homogeneous country — as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn’t lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Teachers College, has addressed the effects of size and homogeneity on a nation’s education performance by comparing Finland with another Nordic country: Norway. Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams
suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country’s school system than the nation’s size or ethnic makeup.

From my personal perspective, I’d fall somewhere in between the two points. While it’s true that Norway hasn’t done too much better than the US in the PISA studies, while being about as homogeneous, Finland does have two discrete advantages. First of all, the Finnish language is 99% (or so) phonetic, while English is about 75%, meaning that reading and writing in Finnish is more or less a non-issue. This is such a big advantage in the PISA study, that virtually every academic commentator on the subject has mentioned this. Second of all, Finland also happens to have a 5% ethnic minority called the Swedish speaking Finns, who just happen to have a really strong pro-achievement culture, similar to Jewish, German and Chinese minorities around the world that certainly helps boost Finland’s PISA results. Secondarily, even if these two facts would not separate Finland from Norway in this manner, I have my doubts that the US could ever reach these results.
The simple fact is that Blacks and Hispanics make up 28% of the US population, and these two groups have by far the worst academic achievement records of all demographic groups. This may be due to the legacy of slavery, English as a second language, institutional discrimination etc. but it is none-the-less a fact of life. [Ed: He overlooks that the US also has its achievement oriented minority groups like the Swedish Finns, including the Asians who have been termed ‘the model minority.’]

What’s more, despite their many differences, Finland and the U.S. have an educational goal in common. When Finnish policymakers decided to reform the country’s education system in the 1970s, they did so because they realized that to be competitive, Finland couldn’t rely on manufacturing or its scant natural resources and instead had to invest
in a knowledge-based economy.

This is all true, but the question that should be asked is “has it worked?” In my opinion the honest answer is “yes, but poorly”. Since the 1970’s a lot of manufacturing has exited the country, weakening the previously extremely strong labor unions. At the same time the country has slightly eased its high-tax policy. A better education has probably helped some innovative companies spur, but despite of this Finland’s long term trajectory is not good. According to WEF’s GCR index, Finland ranks nr. 3 (and has been at nr. 1 spot for some years), but that index (see my discussion above about measurements like this) also ranks countries by using some rather random variables such as healthcare and education. In reality, true competitiveness of a country can be simply found out by looking at capital inflows vs. outflows, and in this test most Nordic countries have fared rather miserably in the last decade. Finland does have some real comparative
advantages, like the ease of starting businesses, lowish corporate regulations, stable property rights, and predictable politics, but it’s severely hampered by sky high taxes and impossible labor regulations. It is things like these, not educational infrastructure, that ultimately determine how competitive a country is on a global market.

Besides, if the Finnish educational infrastructure would be that great, how come that the purchase power parity adjusted GDP/capita is $10,000 – $14,000 less than in the US and that this gap is continuously widening. Finland is also known for its massive brain drain. On the worst years a total of 1/8 of university educated people emigrated elsewhere. To make matters worse, these people (including me) were not your liberal arts students, but those who specialized in highly technical high income fields such as engineering, science and economics.

***

He stopped there. I don’t know why. Maybe he fell asleep at the keyboard and drooled all over it, thus ruining it and making it impossible for him to type more.In part 2, I will discuss whether it even makes sense to discuss bringing the Finnish education system to the US.

Speech therapist update

We think we have found a speech pathologist who can do a speech evaluation for Alpha in German. She doesn’t speak German but she studied at some point in time and thinks that, with my help, she would be able to evaluate his speech. I hope so because every thing else we’ve tried has consisted of: 1) Call someone 2) They give you a name. 3) Contact that person 4) Talk to them 5) Email them 5) Wait 6) They email back, wait 7) Meet with them 8) They give you another name 9) Contact that person 10) Wait 11) They contact you back telling you to wait 12) Wait.

We’re still waiting.

The good news is that I think Alpha’s speech is improving. He’s saying more things, but he still has trouble with phenomes that aren’t completely in the mouth. When we speak, air either goes out the mouth or out the nose, or partially out the mouth and nose. The airflow is regulated by a flap in the back of our throat, but if you have cleft palate or fail to learn how to use this flap correctly, you can’t properly regulate the airflow. Since nasality (airflow through the nose while speaking) is a very subtle component of speech, it is very easily affected by even the smallest impairments, such as say, too much earwax in the ears. But it’s also relatively easy to fix, so I feel certain that once we actually start speech therapy, his speech will be fixed rather quickly.

But Alpha is using more and more English all the time. He says phrases he hears at school a lot, like “Can’t catch me!” and has learned how to say “I can’t,” but he says it a long a (aaah), which makes him sound British. I blame German. He also says “Stop it!” and “Come on!” and calls things sticky. But he keeps telling me the other kids in his class understand German. I don’t know why he thinks this. He knows they don’t speak Finnish, but the idea of them not understanding German has yet to sink in.

His Finnish is progressing as well and just as Finnish school ended for the year, he was starting to provide Finnish answers to his teacher in Finnish school, which is a huge step. Interestingly enough, she also noted that he tends to address everyone else in German but when they speak to him, he will respond to them in the language in which they spoke to him, which shows a lot of language-person awareness.

All in all, some good advances as we head into summer!