Word-Of-the-Week #636: Excellence

October 13, 2016 by  

Excellence – exceptionally good; superiority.

Do you believe that it’s possible to get a good education at a public school? Do you think that inner-city children get the same educational opportunities as those in the suburbs? Do you believe that teachers in the US are trusted and respected?

This week is the second half of Why Finland has the best schools written by William Doyle.

He continues, “In the United States, teachers are routinely degraded by politicians, and thousands of teacher slots are filled by temps with six or seven weeks of summer training. In Finland teachers are the most trusted and admired professionals next to doctors, in part because they are required to have master’s degrees in education with specialization in research and classroom practice.

“Our mission as adults is to protect our children from politicians,” one Finnish childhood education professor told me. “We also have an ethical and moral responsibility to tell businesspeople to stay out of our building.” In fact, any Finnish citizen is free to visit any school whenever they like, but her message was clear: Educators are the ultimate authorities on education, not bureaucrats, and not technology vendors.

Skeptics might claim that the Finnish model would never work in America’s inner-city schools, which instead need boot-camp drilling and discipline, Stakhanovite workloads, relentless standardized test prep and screen-delivered testing.

But what if the opposite is true?

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What if high-poverty students are the children most urgently in need of the benefits that, for example, American parents of means obtain for their children in private schools, things that Finland delivers on a national public scale — highly qualified, highly respected and highly professionalized teachers who conduct personalized one-on-one instruction; manageable class sizes; a rich, developmentally correct curriculum; regular physical activity; little or no low-quality standardized tests and the toxic stress and wasted time and energy that accompanies them; daily assessments by teachers; and a classroom atmosphere of safety, collaboration, warmth and respect for children as cherished individuals?

Why should high-poverty students deserve anything less?

One day last November, when the first snow came to my part of Finland, I heard a commotion outside my university faculty office window, which is close to the teacher training school’s outdoor play area. I walked over to investigate.

The field was filled with children savoring the first taste of winter amid the pine trees. My son was out there somewhere, but the children were so buried in winter clothes and moving so fast that I couldn’t spot him. The noise of children laughing, shouting and singing as they tumbled in the fresh snow was close to deafening.

“Do you hear that?” asked the recess monitor, a special education teacher wearing a yellow safety smock.

“That,” she said proudly, “is the voice of happiness.”

This week is all about excellence. Do you think our society would benefit if everyone had the opportunity of an exceptionally good education? Can you imagine how many excellent teachers we would attract if they were treated with the same respect as a doctor? Can you imagine a world where children actually learn skills at school and have FUN doing it?

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