The Reason Why America Fails to Compete Educationally

America's education system
America under-performs educationally

The United States cannot follow the Finnish model to emerge from second class world educational status, because the Finnish system is based on social equality and esteem for the teaching profession. In America, “teachers are relentless hounded and degraded, made the scapegoats of society’s inequalities by sharing low scores with their students, whose families and communities are cut off from America’s wealth.” To compete, America must be radically transformed.

President Obama this week told a White House audience honoring teachers of the year that elected leaders have “a particular responsibility…instead of bashing teachers, to support them.” By his side stood Education Secretary Arne Duncan who, as chief of Chicago’s schools waged holy corporate war on public school teachers, and now, with the enthusiastic backing of his boss, seeks to crush them as union members and as educational professionals, nationwide.

Obama is constantly holding forth about the need for America to achieve educational excellence – like Finland, which is top-ranked in the world. But a recent article in the Washington Post by Finnish educational leader Pasi Sahlberg makes clear that his country’s success is rooted in a comprehensive national system that strives for equity – for equality of access to resources for all Finland’s people. The United States, with the most striking social inequalities among the rich countries of the world, is simply not equipped to benefit from the Finnish model, and will never be until the U.S. is transformed as a society.

Even the baby steps towards equity that Mr. Sahlberg says the U.S. must take to advance educationally, are anathema to the corporate powers-that-be. Finland guarantees equal allocation of educational resources to all communities, rich or poor; requires, by law, that all kids have “access to child care, comprehensive health care, and pre-school”; and it provides free education from pre-school through university. These are prerequisites for general, quality education – and are non-existent in the United States.

Teachers in Finland are respected professionals, with the prestige of doctors and lawyers, and a masters degree as a minimum. It is because they are so esteemed by society that Finnish teachers are the “sole authority in monitoring the progress of students.” There are no standardized tests in Finland.

Yet, here in the United States teachers are relentless hounded and degraded, made the scapegoats of society’s inequalities by sharing low scores with their students, whose families and communities are cut off from America’s wealth. Obama’s corporate privatization campaign relentlessly seeks to de-professionalize teachers, to replace them with young, essentially temporary employees who have no intention of making teaching their life’s work. With that kind of self-destruct mechanism, the U.S. will be lucky to remain in the global second tier of education also-rans.

Mr. Sahlberg keeps returning to the principle of social equity as an educational necessity. You can’t just keep shouting “Excel! Excel!” when the resources and support systems that would allow all children to reach their potential are hoarded by the rich and largely segregated by race.

The Finnish educator did not mention Finland’s ethnic homogeneity – that its population is 93 percent Finnish and the next largest group is Swedes. Sahlberg is a kind of diplomat as well as a teacher. But, here is the truth: the lack of a social compact in the United States has crippled the society in myriad ways, including its inability to take even the first steps towards educational equity. That absence of a social compact is rooted in White supremacy. Racism is why Deshawn can’t read and why Chip isn’t doing very well on a world scale, either. All these factors are all the more reason to take an active responsibility for your child’s education.

By; Glen Ford