Ready, Set…

We’re about to launch into our very first official year of homeschooling. Schools in my town already back, but since I consider starting before September heresy, we’re starting September 1. This also happens to be the day Hogwarts always starts, so I figure we can’t go wrong with it. Never mind that it’s Labor Day. We’re starting then, dammit (I actually only realized it was Labor Day after I decided we’d start that day and decided not to bother changing anything).

I’ve spent the last few weeks photocopying all the curriculum resources I have, three-hole punching them, and filing them away into binders as well as drawing up a tentative schedule for how this fall is going to run. I think I’ve arranged things so we’ll have time to take off a month when the baby is born and my family comes to visit. I figure most homeschoolers slow down around December and just do holiday stuff anyway, so it shouldn’t be a huge deal. I’m still nervous about it though. Our ability to take off in December is dependent largely on us being on the ball before then. What if we’re not? What if we’re hugely lazy? Unfortunately you can’t plan for every contingency and at least we have a lot of flexibility built in.

Beta will be going to preschool this fall, which makes the thought of homeschooling first grade with Alpha a lot easier. I’ll have 9 hours a week with only Alpha around. Hopefully we can get all the Important Stuff done then.

I’ve also made his Schultüte, a concept my husband failed to understand.

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I showed him it when it was mostly finished and he just looked confused. “So how long does he have to wear that? Everyday?”

“What? No, it’s just for the first day.”

“So why do you wear it the first day?”

“NO! You don’t wear it at all! You put stuff in it.”

“Like a backpack?”

“NO! Like sweets! The point is to sweeten the child’s first day of school so that it’s fun and they look forward to it.”

Then he decided it was a neat tradition. I still have to buy fillers for it, though.

As far as our curriculum is concerned, I’ve opted to use materials that strike me as tried and true by various homeschoolers: Singapore Math for Math, Explode the Code for reading/phonics (along with beginner reader books), Handwriting without Tears for handwriting, History Odyssey: Ancients 1 for History, and R.E.A.L Science Life I for science. Additionally, Alpha will have  German class on Mondays, Gymnastics and Art on Tuesdays and Finnish school on Saturdays.

So with fingers crossed, we will dive right in…and hopefully everything will work out well.

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In Search of ‘Normal’ Homeschoolers

I need to find some normal homeschooling friends. Desperately. I’m sure they’re out there. I’m in a homeschooling “network” of about 400 hundred people, so you’d think some of them would be more on the normal side. The problem is sorting having the tenacity to go through of the weirdo ones and still be around for the normal ones.

What do I mean by normal?

Well…one homeschooling mom decided to start a group to help her 8 year old daughter find some friends her age. So she sent out a message saying “Although Sally [not her real name] adores her younger brothers [being about 4] and loves playing with them, some times she also likes to play with kids her own age….” What the hell. Of course she wants to play with kids her own age! What kid doesn’t? I’d be concerned if she only wanted to play with boys half her age. Why so defensive in the beginning? Would anyone actually read an email saying, “My daughter wants to make more friends in her age group. Let’s get together!” and conclude that Sally hates her brothers and wants them to die painful slow deaths?

This kind of pro-active defensiveness seems to be common in homeschooling groups. Mention Halloween or Easter or any holiday that traditionally revolves  around candy and you get a chorus of “Although I hate the candy part of it…” Sigh. Yes. We know.

Along with this are the little reminders tacked on to group events or celebrations to bring a “healthy snack to share with all allergens labelled!” I’m fine with labeling the allergies bit; I’d be pissed I was chowing down on something only for it to turn out to have lobster in it and end up covered in hives. But why do they feel the need to tell us to bring a healthy snack? Are we adults or not? Can we not decide for ourselves what is healthy? One mom brought cookies to an Easter Egg Hunt (oh, sorry, Not Easter Egg Hunt. I referred to it as an Easter Egg Hunt when RSVP-ing and got promptly corrected by the leader that it was strictly secular and had nothing to do with any religious holiday whatsoever. I resisted the urge to immediately schedule a random egg hunt in September), but I guess that was okay because they were gluten free and, as everyone knows, gluten free makes it healthy. I spend most of these events resisting the urge to bring Doritos and a can of cheez whiz. Non-organic, of course.

OMG, that’s pasteurized? Don’t you know how bad that is?

Lately they’ve changed the rules and decided that if people don’t want to do potluck (probably because all the rules make it too much of a pain in the ass), you can also just bring food for you and yours. Uh, thanks?

It’s not so much that people do these sorts of things, it’s the way they go about it: completely pompous. It’s not about what they do so much as it is about how they present themselves to other people. The last thing any of these women want is to be revealed as the only mom there who let’s there kids eat sugar and who things pizza pockets are a healthy entree. And it annoys me.

I’m not sure if meeting normal homeschooling parents would help in this regard since this behavior is common to all women. We had one of DH’s co-workers over and grilled food. I commented to his co-worker’s wife that Beta could eat 4 hot dogs in one go and didn’t even care if they were cooked. She replied, awkwardly, “I bet Billy could too, but I usually don’t let him because of all the preservatives and nitrates in hot dogs.” She must have seen this meme going around Facebook, I guess:

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I base 99.9% of my parenting decisions on facebook memes. Fact.

Uh, thanks for insinuating that I basically want my kids to get cancer, Mom Lady. Sheesh. Way to suck all the fun out of grilling.

So while most of the mommy population seems to have this problem of covering their mommy-asses whenever they say anything, ever, it seems like it’s more common among the homeschooling population. This is probably due to the fact that the homeschooling population is self-selecting. Of all parents, which ones do you think are going to be most likely to decide that public school is inadequate for their children’s needs? Ones who feed their kids 12 hot dogs a month, cancer be damned, or those whose kids would be hard pressed to recognize a hot dog? So I’ve decided to try and recruit my less militant friends who are on the fence about homeschooling. This is going to make me super annoying, I know it. It probably won’t work, either. But I want my kids to have friends. Preferably friends where I don’t feel like the other mothers are constantly outraged at how I raise my children and therefore will never let their kids play at my house and would really prefer it if they didn’t hang out with my kids at all, but they can’t actually say that because that would lack the appropriate passive-aggressiveness they’ve become accustom to. They could always stick a smiley face at the end of the email they eventually write to break the news; everyone knows no one can get mad at you if you put a smiley in there :).

Maybe I’ll start a Meet Up Group: “Normal Homeschoolers.” After all, everyone knows that if you want to get the really militant homeschoolers, you label your group “Gifted Homeschoolers” because everyone who homeschools has gifted children. Homeschoolers have one hell of a bell curve.

(As a post script, I’m basically trying to summon up the courage to keep going to homeschooling things in the hopes I will meet some kindred spirits without getting too discouraged and quitting all together)

Stupid Suggestions to Save Money

I have a bad habit. Every time someone talks about someone who is tight on money, I reflexively suggest the plant a garden. I need to stop doing this because, while gardening might be a great way to get outside, get some exercise and get some fresh, organic vegetables, it is not necessarily going to save you money. Unless you’re a really good gardener, gardening is going to cost you money. You might not have to spend much money on vegetables anymore, but let’s be honest: how much money do you really spend on vegetables each month? Enough to make the money you spend on dirt (if you have to buy dirt), seeds, seedlings, organic bug killers and compost, not to mention your time (which is valuable). You’d be better off buying vegetables from the grocery store and…getting a job.

This isn’t the only bad suggestion I’ve made or heard others make as a way to save money.

Whenever people discuss how being poor makes it hard to eat healthy, invariably people suggest the poor eat “beans and rice.” Because beans and rice are apparently the solution to everything. The issue is: they don’t taste all that great unless you add a lot of spice to them. You have to soak the beans. Seriously. You have to soak the beans. And they take a long time to cook. And, quite frankly, if I had a choice between buying beans and rice to cook at home and a Big Mac, I would take the Big Mac because the Big Mac is that much more delicious and contains something that resembles meat more than beans and rice do.
And we used to eat beans and rice! In the 3 years surrounding Alpha’s birth, we ate one meal a week that was bean based to save money because we were broke. This usually ended up being the meal neither of us really looked forward to and I ended up eating most of the leftovers before discarding them all together. We were hard up for cash because my husband hadn’t yet found a permanent job in the US and I quit my job when I had my son (thinking that DH would have a job any minute!). Our income was near zero and we were living off savings. In other words, the solution to our problem wasn’t “Moar beanz and rice!!!!!” it was, “MORE MONEY!”

I’ve also made my own laundry detergent to save money. This works pretty well–it is cheap compared to most laundry detergent (unless you coupon and buy on sales, etc)–and it’s better for the environment. But it takes time. And it doesn’t necessarily get your clothes as clean as actual laundry detergent. As far as the meager amount of money you save doing this, it’s also not really worth your time. Unless you’re the Duggars, you’d be better off getting a job and buying the detergent. Better value for your time.

Then there’s hanging your clothes out to dry. I personally love hanging my clothes out. It gets me out of the house on nice summer mornings and I find it meditative. In the winter, it adds moisture to the air in my house. The stiffness of the clothes doesn’t bother me. I’m so used to line drying that I have a hard time believing jeans that can’t walk by themselves are actually clean. My sister fell in love with my rotary clothesline when she visited and got one at home. I encouraged her because it would “save money and electricity.” Then my brother-in-law pointed out that after the cost of the clothesline, they’d have to line dry clothes into their next several reincarnations to recoup the cost because electricity is dirt cheap where they live. Because I’m surrounded by hippies, it’s twice as expensive where I live. So I’m saving twice as much money! Go me! But if you live in Germany, where electricity costs 30 Euro cents per kilowatt, you’re line drying unless you’re rich and have money to burn. Or your maid’s time is way more expensive than the cost of the electricity to run the dryer. If you have a dryer in Europe (and a significant number of Europeans don’t), you use it on an emergency basis only. The end. But for the average American, the time it takes to hang out clothes is not worth the potential “savings” in the electric bill. It’s a dumb suggestion to save money.

Though when we lived in an apartment and had to pay $1.50 each time we did laundry to semi-dry our clothes, it was totally worth it. We were both unemployed, so we had plenty of time to violate the house rules and hang out our laundry on our balcony. But it would have been more worth our time to…actually have jobs, instead. Oh well.

Sewing your own clothes is another great way to save money! Except it’s not. There is no way you can be produce more clothes more cheaply than someone in Thailand. This is why Thailand/other places in Asia make most of our clothing these days. Sure, the occasional novelty outfit you sold yourself is good fun and sewing your own clothes is a great way to make sure you have your clothes exactly how you want them. I know I’d love to have a pair of custom jeans (as in, custom made not by me). But on the whole, sewing is not going to save you money. You will have earned more working and buying a similar outfit than you will have saved by sewing it.

Canning is another activity that will not save you money. It will result in you saving more vegetables from your garden (and maybe help get your garden a little less in the fiscal red), but it’s unlikely you will actually end up canning a quart of tomatoes for less than you could actually buy them at the store.

I started baking my own bread again to “save money.” We used to buy the sprouted whole grain Ezekiel bread at the grocery store, running $5 a loaf. But I decided, hey. I have a bread pan. I have hard wheat grains in my basement. I have a grain mill. I have an oven. Let’s go! Then I thought, “but if I had 4 bread pans, I could make a months worth of bread at one go and freeze the rest in the freezer, thus saving precious time and electricity.” Then I remembered how hard it is to get even slices with a bread knife. “I really need a bread slicer. A proper one, like my host family has!” And then I remembered how homemade bread doesn’t stay fresh as long as store-bought bread since it doesn’t have preservatives. “I really need a breadbox, too!”

I started looking on craigslist for these sought items, convinced they would transport me to bread making heaven and save me $20 a month. I couldn’t find them on craigslist (though I did find some antique breadboxes being sold as parts of china sets, which just made me want to spend $200 on a Pfalzgraff China set). I looked for them new, but at that price they would break the bank and baking bread at home was definitely not worth it. So I decided I could do without.

I baked one loaf in my huge oven and tried to convince myself that I was totally saving money and the time I spent making the bread would definitely be worth it. I also told myself I was educating the kids in How To Bake Bread. I hope I was convincing.

Teaching Kids to Write

I recently met up with two of my friends from high school and we started discussing how much we benefited from the education we got in the IB Program, especially the writing skills. All of us, at one point or another in our careers have realized that we have the ability to write and structure essays that most of our peers simply lack. For me, team projects in college consisted of everyone doing their parts and then me taking them and massively editing them so that they sounded good and used proper grammar. My first friend ended up taking a college English course, where she found out that the way she learned to write in high school was too complicated and she needed to dumb it down a bit. My second friend is currently getting her Masters degree and ended up writing a ten page paper at the last minute the same week her mother died and her teacher praised her writing, saying it was uncommonly good.

This discussion made me think about teaching writing in homeschooling and the many arguments I’ve read about how you don’t need to teach your kids how to write, period, because the kind of writing you need in the workplace is completely different from the kind of writing you’re taught at school. I think that line of thinking is missing the point. The point is not that you don’t need to teach your kids how to write, it’s that you need to teach them how to write properly, or at least to develop their writing skills so they can express themselves fluently on paper.

This reminds me of all the arguments I’ve read about homeschooling vs. unschooling. Unschoolers argue that kids are natural learners and do not need formal instruction because they will naturally pick up things that they want to learn and learn it. They will naturally specialize. The problem I see with this argument is that this seems to say that some people are just naturally good writers while others are naturally bad and there’s not much you can do about it, but i know for a fact this isn’t true. Both of my friends were told by the IB Administrator in their interview that he was concerned about their writing and they were going to have to work hard to improve on it if they got into IB and both of them did. The first friend I mentioned went from getting Ds on her first IB essays to getting As in her Senior year. The second friend was in IB gifted English in spite of any writing weaknesses she or anyone else may see in her whereas I was not. They’re both very good writers because of the instruction they received and both of them are extremely grateful for it (although they may have been less grateful at the time).

And isn’t that the point of learning? To get better at things we suck at? My son sucks at talking although his brain works fine, so we spend 15 minutes every day practicing his speech. He may never grow up to be a great orator, but that’s no reason not to make sure he can speak as well as possible. Alpha seems to be chugging along well enough in  math, though, so I could theoretically not teach him in anything in that subject. If left alone, maybe he would come up with the Pythagorean Theorem eventually, but he’d probably get their a lot quicker if I just told him about it. Because the point of teaching is to show us what other people have discovered, what they’ve done and what best practices we can use to get there ourselves. Maybe this is why American schools are so bad. I tried helping my 11 year-old nephew with his math homework and he kept protesting that yes, he could solve the problems the way I showed him, but that wasn’t how his teacher wanted him to do it and so he wouldn’t get full points. Screw that. That’s bad teaching and it results in bad learning. Similarly, teaching kids that a paragraph is four sentences long and a good essay consists of an introduction, three supporting paragraphs and a conclusion, all of which support your thesis which should definitely have the individual topics of the three body paragraphs is a boring way to write, but at least it does teach kids how to organize their thoughts, which is important. It’s a good starting place. But you should start there and work your way up instead of just staying there or never getting to that point in the first place.

So, we will definitely be teaching writing. I’m not entirely sure how, but we’ll probably start by just telling narratives, which I’ll write down and improve upon so the kids can get used to the differences between talking and writing. Then hopefully they will be capable writers when they’re grown.

On School Ambiance

I spend a lot of time going back and forth on my decision to homeschool. Is it the right thing for my family? Is it the right thing for my kids? Am I going to fail them by not teaching them the things they neeed to know? Will I successfully wear both hats of mother and teacher? Lately my thoughts have been trending more toward the plus sides of homeschooling.

My sister sends her kids to school and my nephew is starting sixth grade this year at a middle school which happens to be located in the ghetto. Their first problem with this school arose when my sister found out that my nephew was not allowed to bring his textbooks home, despite having paid a textbook rental fee. She emailed his teacher to find out why and the teacher replied that too many of the students weren’t taking care of their textbooks (read: damaging them beyond repair), so they were no longer allowed to take them home. My sister then asked him how her son was supposed to study at home in order to do well in his class if he wasn’t allowed to take his textbook home? After a bit more back and forth, the teacher relented and allowed my nephew to take his textbook home. This is a fairly unusual experience for public school. My oldest nephew was always allowed to take his textbooks home, as was I. I remember one instance in middle school where we were not allowed to and that was simply because there were not enough textbooks to go around. They had ordered them but half didn’t arrive until later in the year at which point we could take them home again. So I guess we can chalk this down to another way the poor have a harder time making it. If you’re a poor kid but happen to actually want to study and take care of your textbooks, too bad. No extra study time for you!

Then last week, my nephew was late for class because he had to take his trumpet to his locker. He couldn’t take it to the bandroom like usual because he had been gone that morning for a dentist appointment. So his teacher docked him 20 points for being tardy. And my sister ended up writing an email to this teacher. I don’t think she’s received a response yet, but it does get tiresome.

I also met with a friend last week and we were discussing the pros and cons of homeschooling–she’s still up in the air about it and figures she’ll let her son decide what he wants to do– and I mentioned that one thing I was glad we didn’t have to deal with was the locked down nature of today’s schools. I really hate how when I go to the local public school, the doors are all locked, there’s a camera, you have to buzz the secretary, who then opens the microphone and then you have to state your purpose and get buzzed in and then go in and sign in on a little book. That and the high quality, cinder block construction make going to the local school more like going to the local prison. It’s actually easier to get into the State House where I live than a local public school. I can just walk right in. Furthermore, I can walk in while conceal carrying a fire arm and the security guard won’t even look up from his paper, unless I look like I don’t know where I’m going. Then he will probably give me directions. Not so in public school where kids can’t even exit the building at the end of the day with out being carefully escorted by an adult to their waiting parents’ cars, almost as though this were Iraq and the woods were full of insurgents instead of ticks carrying lyme disease.

“But that’s normal these days. All the schools are like that. You might notice it, but your kid won’t,” my friend pointed out.

“And that’s the problem,” I responded. “They won’t notice it. They’ll grow up thinking it’s completely normal to go to a school where they’re locked away. Then when they get out into the real world, they won’t feel secure without it. It’s like when you raise chickens. If you don’t let them go outside before they’re 8 weeks old, even if you open the door to their coop so they can go outside, they won’t.” According to the FDA, ‘free-range’ officially means that chickens have to have access an outdoor yard, but since egg producers don’t want their chickens going outside, they just don’t open the door to the yard until they’re over 8 weeks old. Then the chickens have access to their yard, but never actually go outside. Ta-da! Free-range eggs, brought to you by the magic of regulation.

It’s the same with kids. They have to know that they are safe in the world. Sending them 40 hours a week to a place where they are implicitly told the world is a dangerous place is not the way to do it. School shootings do happen, but they are the exception, not the rule. If our desire is to prevent school shootings, a more effective way to do so would to take all the money we’re currently spending to increase security in public schools (via Department of Homeland Security grants, mind you, not local taxpayers) and use it to treat and raise awareness about mental illness so that people who would snap and shoot up schools can go and spend some time in a nice mental health hospital instead.

For a cross country comparison, Finland used to be number one in school shooting deaths per capita. I don’t know where it is now since this was before the Newtown shooting. In spite of these shootings, when I went there in 2008 and my husband wanted to show me his old school, we just walked right through. No signing in at the office (though apparently nowadays you do have to do that), he just showed me around. And students at Finnish schools are allowed to leave during the day if they have a free period and are trusted to come back for their next class. Heck, they can even walk to school! It’s amazing.

And for all the smug homeschoolers who say, “yep! School shootings are why I homeschool,” shut up. School shootings are not why you homeschool. Statistically speaking, children are more likely to be killed by family members than by random people, so really if the physical safety of your kids is why you keep them home, you’d actually do better sending them to school. You homeschool because the odds of your kid dying are small either way, but the odds of them getting a good education are higher outside of school than in it. And perhaps because the school environment leaves a little something to be desired as far as convincing you that it’s a good place to learn.

Is My Son Dyslexic?

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Alpha, writing his name

I’m beginning to suspect that Alpha may be dyslexic.

Since my husband is dyslexic, we’ve always been aware of the possibility of having children with dyslexia since it is genetic, but I’ve been wondering more and more since Alpha’s last parent teacher conference in April, when his teacher advised we get him evaluated for weak fine motor skills. The evaluator told us that he was behind, but not so severely that he needed therapy at this point and that the fine motor skills necessary for handwriting don’t develop until 6 or 7, anyway, so not to worry. These tend to develop in boys later than girls as a general rule. His teacher also showed me some of his handwriting books that he’s done, which in all honesty I don’t take too seriously and find it rather amusing they’re dedicating so much time teaching 4 year-olds to write when that is more of an elementary school thing. She showed me some pages, where he did pretty well, and other pages where the writing was very sloppy.

Then she brought out the binomial cube.  “This is is one of the harder works we have in the classroom. We have some Kindergarteners who can’t do it, but Alpha can do it perfectly, everytime.” She explained how they use cube. The teacher takes the cube, which has different colored sizes and dismantles it. She points to each similarly colored side to show the student that the similarly colored sides go together. Then the student is supposed to rebuild the cube. This is the sort of activity that would be easy for someone who can easily rotate objects around in their head would excel in. Rotating images in one’s head is a special talent dyslexics have.

A few other things gave me pause, as well. I’ve been going over the alphabet with Alpha since he was about 2. He knows some letters, but he seems to know them inconsistently. Sometimes he knows them, sometimes he tells me, “I can’t.” (He says this in English, with an English accent, which is hilarious). Other times, he tells me they’re different letters. He’s told me that E is M (which if you turn E on its side, isn’t unreasonable), that N is Z (again, if you turn it on its side, yes it is).

His speech problems, as it turns out are also a sign of dyslexia as dyslexics tend to have problems with blends and differentiating between sounds in the language.

I’ve also noticed he doesn’t understand rhymes. We have a German book called, “Wir Entdecken die Buchstaben” (We discover the letters) and one of the pages has activities involving rhyming. You have to find the words that rhyme together. So it will have have Topf, Zopf, Kopf mixed in with Haus and Maus. You have to know that Topf, Zopf, and Kopf rhyme and so do Haus and Maus but Topf and Haus do not. He doesn’t get it. I explained to him that these are words that have the same sound at the end. tOPF, zOPF, kOPF, but he doesn’t get it. How do you explain rhyming? Don’t people just GET rhyming? My husband told me he didn’t understand how rhyming worked until he finally figured it out when he was 16. His lack of understanding contributed to his long-standing hatred of poetry. We did another worksheet from a German book that involved drawing lines to connect rhyming objects. On the top row were:

MAUS   KNOPF    TISCH   HASE

On the bottom row were:

TOPF   NASE   HAUS  FISCH

Now, if even without knowing German, can you figure out which of those words would rhyme? He pointed to each object and said what they were and then I pointed to mouse. “What rhymes with mouse?” I asked him. “Ummmmmmm….” he looked at the paper and then pointed at nose. “Nope,” I said. He tried again, each time looking at me to see if it was the right answer. He did get ‘Hase’ and ‘Nase’ right, mainly because by the time he got to the rabbit, nose was the only thing on the bottom row that hadn’t been crossed off.

He also mixes up he/she/it a lot when he speaks. I thought this was my fault because I make a lot of gender mistakes in German, but my husband does this all the time, too. He will often tell me things like “My sister got his apartment today.”or “His husband….” He tried blaming this on Finnish, which does not differentiate between he and she, but I pointed out that he learned Swedish at the same time and Swedish does, so that doesn’t explain why he does it all the time in English. Apparently dyslexics do that a lot, too.

Here is a full list of dyslexic symptoms Alpha presents that we’ve noticed so far:

  • Difficulty pronouncing words
  • Difficulty with before/after, left/right, and so on (he often tells me in German, “Ich gehe auf die Küche” (I’m going on the Kitchen) when he means “Ich gehe in die Küche”)
  • Difficulty learning the alphabet, nursery rhymes or songs
  • Difficulty with word retrieval or naming problems (we notice this when DH reads to him at night and asks him what things are in Finnish, which he knows, but he just can’t find the word  and during the speech evaluations and vocabulary tests he did. There were many words, like finger, I knew he knew but he couldn’t find them during the evaluation)
  • Difficulty identifying or generating rhyming words, or counting syllables in words (phonological awareness)
  • Difficulty hearing and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)
  • Difficulty in learning the sounds of letters (phonics)–he tells me ah-ah-Musik. What? There’s no a in that word!
  • Difficulty in remembering names and shapes of letters (he’s still very young for this, but he spent all last year in Kindergarten working on writing his name and hasn’t come as far as many of his classmates)
  • Inconsistent schoolwork
  • Relatives may have similar problems
  • Poor or slow handwriting (not too applicable for him since he’s so young, but again, compared to other kids in his preschool, his handwriting is very bad)
  • Poor fine motor skills
  • Difficulty remembering the kinesthetic movements to form letters correctly
  • Difficulty coordinating facial muscles to produce sounds
  • Overwhelmed by too much input

These are only the ones from the list that are relevant now, to a preschooler. My husband and I have discussed this a lot in the last few days and I’m reading a few books on dyslexia, including the one that helped my husband stop feeling like he was an idiot all the time (The Gift of Dyslexia), in order to learn more about it.

Once he starts his speech therapy in August, I will discuss our suspicions with his speech therapist and see what she thinks and then find out where we go to have The Full Battery of Tests done.

In the meantime, we’re changing the way we educate him. We’re not going to be sending him back to preschool in the fall (I still need to call his school and de-enroll him). This is for numerous reasons. First off, he needs to spend a lot of time working on strengthening his fine motor skills and apparently MORE writing practice is not the way to go about this. Instead, we will be doing zero writing whatsoever and concentrating on cutting activities, pinching activities, playing with playdo and coloring with crayons. These build the motor skills necessary to write without frustrating him. Secondly, I don’t want him to start thinking that reading and writing are things that other people can do but he can’t because he’s too stupid, which is a feeling my husband basically internalized from being in school. Finally, no preschool will free up more of our time and funds for intensive speech therapy, which will probably be more helpful for his speech at this point than preschool.

I’m working on putting together a Kindergarten homeschooling plan. Although I’m not required to officially do any schooling as a homeschooler until a child turns 6 where I live, I figure a year of getting into the habit of doing it without any pressure will be good for me.

We’re starting off with doing basic phonics, which will be easier once he can pronounce more letters accurately. But since we’ll be starting with A and working our way through the vowels, we have plenty of time for his speech therapy to take effect before we get to the consonant sounds. We’ll spend as much time as necessary with each letter as it takes for him to be able to automatically say what letter it is and what sound it makes in German, English and Finnish. We will also be doing more hands-on letter making activities. I will hopefully come up with more ideas as I continue to read and learn about it.

I know some of you are probably wondering if we should really continue with the other languages? Aren’t dyslexics supposed to be really bad at learning foreign languages? They are. My husband has always stated that he is really bad at languages and he speaks English, Finnish, and Swedish fluently with good working knowledge of German, Norwegian and Danish. Also, it’s important to note the difference between foreign languages and languages you’re born speaking. Since Alpha has had English, German and Finnish in his life since he was born, none of these languages are foreign to him, they’re all native languages. In some ways, this might help him if he is dyslexic because while English has one of the most opaque orthographies in the world (which means it’s very difficult for dyslexics to learn to read and write English), Finnish is one of the most transparent while German falls somewhere in between. Multilingualism also helps strengthen executive control, something dyslexics may have trouble with, and the ability to zero in on important details.

However, I am concerned that the fact he is trilingual will alternately mask some symptoms while making others appear worse. I’m worried that people will (again) tell us its because he’s trilingual and we should drop a language or two because it’s too much. Or that it’s just because he’s trilingual and we should wait a while until he is stronger in all languages and see if the problems persist. However, we’ve already found out that he’s performing normally in all three languages. So this is irrelevant.

As far as making symptoms appear worse, I found a whole paper about bilinguals and dyslexia online. I’m currently reading it and it does outline some difficulties in evaluating and teaching bilingual children in Britain, but it appears to concentrate mainly on sequential bilingualism.

Finnish Schools vs American Schools: Conclusion

I wanted to write this post more about how American schools concentrate more on competition whereas Finnish schools are more cooperative, but I realized there wasn’t a whole lot I could say about that. And really because I think the issue is more that Americans are a lot more ambitious than Finns are overall, so it makes sense that we want to go to the BEST schools so we can have the BEST jobs. If you’re told from day one that the sky is the limit (and Americans are), then you’ll probably be pretty ambitious. What are Finns told from day one? I don’t know, my husband isn’t here so I can’t ask him. But I get the feeling it’s probably similar to what everyone who enters a system is told: if you do well enough here, you will be successful. Go to school, get good grades, do extra curricular activities, go to a good university and you’ll get a good job and be set for life.

The reality is less straight forward than that. In the US, our school system does poorly enough in following through on its promises that we’re looking all over the world to try and find a better way of doing thing. We’re not the only country doing this, either. When Germany did badly on the PISA study in 2002, I was in Germany and got a front seat view of their descent into Angst. They also concentrated primarily on Finland’s school system. “Why don’t you look at Japan or South Korea?” I asked my host sister. “Because they’re Asian and not European,” she answered, the implication being that their culture is so different from the western culture that the conclusions wouldn’t be relevant and that’s entirely plausible. I don’t know enough about those countries systems to offer any other opinion. But I do wonder whether or not it’s entirely beneficial to want to model everything on Finland.

Is Finland’s educational system even living up its promises? Is it providing people with the key to success in life? A relative of my husband’s has worked in it for 30 years and she’s been a strong critic of our decision to homeschool, to say the least. But recently she was talking to him and confessed that he might be on to something. “These young people, I don’t know how to advise them. The world is changing so rapidly, I don’t know if I can really tell them how they should do things or what the right decision for them to make is so that they can have a good career.” This reminds me of the saying ‘you’re always prepared to fight the last war.’ In our education systems, we’re always preparing people to live in the world of today, at best. Not in the world of tomorrow. How can we promise people that if they go to school for 12 years, they will be ready to meet whatever challenges they face when we have no idea what those challenges are?

How can we know if our school systems are actually doing their jobs if the way we evaluate that is based on tests? Or do we really see the purpose of our schools as only to teach them ‘the three r’s (that’s reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, if you’re not familar with the term). Then again, if our schools aren’t even doing that basic task well, we can’t very well expect them to prepare anyone for a career, can we?

A friend recommended Penelope Trunk’s homeschooling blog to me. While a lot of her posts come across as ego soothing (‘it’s okay for my kids to play video games all day while I work, really’) she has a lot of interesting arguments in favor homeschooling. I think they can be boiled down to this: in the future our institutions are going to be constantly in flux and the people who will do best in this situation will be people who are extremely flexible self-starters and self-learners. School does not create these kinds of people and hobbles those who are naturally like that. My husband went to school in Finland and did so badly, he almost didn’t qualify to go to college. While he has been extremely successful since, he still deals with low self-esteem from failing to do the things every other kid in his school could do easily. He can’t alphabetize anything, even though he knows the alphabet. He has horrible handwriting and writes most letters backwards, even though he had remedial handwriting classes in school. If he had taken the PISA test in school, it’s fair to say he would have bombed it in spite of being very smart and being successful in real life.

As he mentioned in his original commentary, what we need to ask ourselves is whether or not school is the best way to educate children. Are tests the best way to measure out income? How many successful people put their success in life down to their schooling? How much is inner drive.

I do think that American schools could benefit in changes based on the Finnish school system (particuarly less classroom time), but I question whether or not even Finnish schools are preparing their students for tomorrow’s economy. Which country to see having a more dynamic economy? Finland, the USA, or Singapore? Or none?

I think the US spends so much time obsessing over its educational system not only because it’s so horrible, so many other systems are just as bad. We watch so much what other countries are doing because we’re so competitive. We take our kids out of school and homeschool them more than any other country on earth because we’re risk takers. We’re also statistical outliers. The reality is that we can’t learn how to create the Best Educational System from other countries, we have to find that answer on our own. And even then we’ll probably be wrong.

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.

Cue the Stranger Danger

I’m reluctant to talk about the recent shooting in Connecticut. It’s a tragedy, but as soon as I heard it happened I knew two things: 1) Homeschoolers were going to point it out as another reason to homeschool, despite the fact that you’re much more likely to be killed by someone you know than a stranger, 2) Anti-gun people were going to use it as another reason to band guns and 3) it would increase the level of security in schools and make them more into mini-prisons, for students’ safety, of course.

So far, the first two have happened. But you know what else happened the week before the shootings?

My husband went to the historical museum to pick up some chocolates for his family. A school group was there at the same time, all the students running around the gift shop, playing in the elevator and generally causing havoc. Hidden behind a clothes rack, he saw a little girl on the ground crying. “Why are you crying?” he asked her. “I wanted to by this,” she told him, “but I left my money at home.” “Well, how much does it cost?” “$4” “Alright, I’ll buy it for you.”

He then turned around to see three teachers standing behind him, giving him dirty looks. “Are you a relative or friend  of this girl?” They questioned him.

“No, I’m not a relative,” he answered, “but whether or not I’m a friend depends on how you define friend.”

“Have you seen her before?”

“No, I’ve never seen her before in my life. Why are you asking me these questions?”

“It’s for safety.”

“Safety?” He eyed the students wearily. “I thought this was a school group, not a prison group. If these are inmates you should have hung a sign up so I would have known to stay away from them.”

“No, no no…for her, safety, not yours.”

My husband lost his cool at this point and stop toying with them. He spoke as loudly as he could and used as many cuss words as possible. “I know you are school teachers and are therefore bad at math and statistics. I know the chances of an adult hurting rather than helping a child are about 1 in a million. For normal people capable at math, that means pretty fucking unlikely. On the contrary, intervening when a child is crying and no one is around the best thing for an adult to do. If you guys would just pull your heads out of your fucking asses, you would see that some of the 30 plus kids you are ‘looking after’ are playing with the elevator and you should probably be more interested in what they are doing instead of pestering me helping a crying child.”

It was very quiet when he finished and everyone was staring at him. He took his candy and went to the register, where the old lady who worked there apologized to him profusely.

A little boy went up to him and said quietly, “You said the F-word.”

“I know,” DH replied.

“That was pretty cool.” He paused. “Can I have some chocolate?”

“No, it’s for my family. But if I had my way, you could stay home and eat chocolate everyday instead of having to waste your time in a stupid school.”
“That’d be awesome!” the boy agreed enthusiastically.’

“Great minds think alike.”

Then he, the teachers and the school group all boarded the elevator for a long, awkward ride to the parking lot.