Finland: The World’s Best School System?

In an effort to understand how to improve schooling in America, sometimes we look at other countries. Whether or not Finland is pertinent, we need to find a way to get more students interested in math and science if we want to compete with China and India in 20 years.

Finland, according a major international survey, has the best educational system in the world. This study, in turn, comes on the heels of several others showing that Finland has the highest rate of teen literacy in the world, the highest percent of "regular readers," and the most "creatively competitive" economy.

The BBC has devoted a whole series of features to looking at why this might be true. The Finnish education minister says that heavy investments in education are a matter of economic survival for a small, affluent high-tech-based nation. Finland spends more per elementary, middle- and high- school student than any other nation on Earth, and comes in second on spending for higher education. School lunches, health care, most class materials and university tuition are all free.

Maybe it’s the schools themselves. Students stay in the same school from about age 7 to 16. Schools are local, community-based affairs, with extremely low turnover in their teaching staffs and strong expectations on parents. Students are all expected to study languages, math and science (and in Finland, girls now outperform boys on science tests). Two thirds of them go to university. On the other hand, maybe the secret is what they don’t do: Finnish students spend less time in class than students in any other industrialized nation.

via WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: Finland: The World’s Best School System?.

Harvard: Six new sustainability principles adopted

The new Harvard University Sustainability Principles:

  • Demonstrating institutional practices that promote sustainability, including measures to increase efficiency and use of renewable resources and to decrease production of waste and hazardous materials, both in Harvard’s own operations and those of its suppliers
  • Promoting health, productivity, and safety of the University community through design and maintenance of the built environment
  • Enhancing the health of campus ecosystems and increasing the diversity of native species
  • Developing planning tools to enable comparative analysis of sustainability implications and to support long-term economic, environmental, and socially responsible decision-making
  • Encouraging environmental inquiry and institutional learning throughout the University community
  • Establishing indicators for sustainability that will enable monitoring, reporting, and continuous improvement.

Link: Harvard Gazette: Six new sustainability principles adopted.

via Alex Steffen

Smarter, Cleaner, Stronger: Secure Jobs, a Clean Environment and Less Foreign Oil

Oakland, California-based environmental research group Redefining Progress today released a report entitled Smarter, Cleaner, Stronger: Secure Jobs, a Clean Environment and Less Foreign Oil, laying out the economic benefits which would accrue to the United States by adopting energy policies focusing on clean energy technologies.

The report itself — a national overview (PDF) and reports for the states — is deceptively slim, as it brings together the results of work done by organizations such as Oak Ridge National Labs, the Apollo Alliance (PDF), the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley, and others.

But what it lacks in original research, it makes up for in its synthesis of mainstream, careful arguments as to the economic results of a shift to cleaner energy. These are not radical, bright green visions; they’re the outcome of largely continuing to do what we’re already doing, but doing it better. In effect, Smarter, Cleaner, Stronger establishes the new baseline scenario for the next 20 years.

Link Smarter, Cleaner, Stronger: Secure Jobs, a Clean Environment and Less Foreign Oil

Link Reports for the States

via WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: The New Baseline Scenario

Life, Experience, and Adversity

Rajesh Jain writes:

…we use ‘crucible’ to refer to an intense, meaningful and often transformational experience.”

That is the context for a “crucible experience” – something which transforms us, and shakes and shapes our lives. We have all gone through these experiences in our life – some of these experiences last a short time, others much longer. Either way, they help change us in some way. More often than not, these are intense and deeply personal experiences, which we would rather not talk about. Even thinking about these experiences makes us want to purge them from our memories. But whatever happens, they leave an indelible mark on us for the rest of our life.

Crucible experiences have a way of testing us. They bring out aspects of our personality that we did not know existed. We can think of them in other words (for example, adversity). In each case, they help build our character – be it as an individual or in the workplace. These events can be voluntary – for example, a difficult and dangerious trek we decided to take. At other times, they just happen – leaving us rushing to react. It is also at times like these that we realise whom we are really close to. All in all, the crucible experiences are character-building. While we are going through these experiences, we may wonder why is it happening to us. But later (sometimes much, much later), when we reflect back, we realise that there was definitely some good that came out of it.

Each of our lives is the sum of our experiences. As Albert Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Add to that Benjamin Disraeli’s quote, “There is no education like adversity.” Take them together and you can think of crucible experiences as life’s step functions: each taking us to a new, higher level, as long as we are willing to learn.

From E M E R G I C . o r g

Is America Losing Its Competitive Edge?

Second crisis blindsides U.S. by Thomas Friedman Thursday, April 22, 2004

Thomas Friedman worries that we are neglecting our advantage in innovation.

We are actually in the middle of two struggles right now. One is against Islamist terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere, and the other is a competitiveness and innovation struggle against India, China, Japan and their neighbors. And while we are all fixated on the former (I’ve been no exception), we are completely ignoring the latter. We have got to get our focus back in balance, not to mention our budget. We can’t wage war on income taxes and terrorism and a war for innovation at the same time.

And what is the Bush strategy? Let’s go to Mars. Hello? Right now we should have a Manhattan Project to develop a hydrogen-based energy economy — it’s within reach and would serve our economy, our environment and our foreign policy by diminishing our dependence on foreign oil. Instead, the Bush team says let’s go to Mars. Where is Congress? Out to lunch — or, worse, obsessed with trying to keep Susie Smith’s job at the local pillow factory that is moving to the Caribbean — without thinking about a national competitiveness strategy. And where is Wall Street? So many of the plutocrats there know that the Bush fiscal policy is a long-term disaster. They know it — but they won’t say a word because they are too greedy or too gutless.

Democracy Works When…

In the context of the debate Can democracy work in Iraq/Arab states/Islamic countries?, Atanu Dey offers some insights from India:

It is instructive to examine explore the two ideas of democracy and markets in the Indian context.

First, markets. One of the most important lessons mankind has learnt is that markets work. There are, however, very important pre-conditions for markets to work. When those pre-conditions are not met, markets fail. That means, the workings of markets in the presense of failures leads to socially sub-optimal, and even harmful, outcomes. Indeed, if the necessary conditions required for markets to function are not met, market fundamentalism can lead to positively disastrous results.

The important point is that markets work but only if certain necessary conditions are met. Consequently, imposing markets on a system which does not meet those often stringent conditions could result in unintended consequences.

Just as the market is a great organizing principle in the economic sphere, so also democracy is a great and noble organizing principle in the political sphere. Democracy works, provided its pre-conditions are met. The necessary conditions include at a minimum: full information, accountability, economic freedom, institutional memory, and so on. Democracy cannot work when the electorate is nearly totally uninformed, where there are strong vested interests, where the notion of accountability is non-existent, where voters can be intimidated and bribed, where the culture is steeped in feudalism, and where illiteracy, superstition and corruption is the norm.

Democracy does not work in India. That is not to say that the fault lies with the idea of democracy. As a system of governance, there are few alternatives, just as markets are the best way to organize economic activities. But markets are prone to failures if its pre-conditions are not met. So also, democracy does not work in India because its necessary conditions are not met.

It is a long and hard road to the place where democracy has any meaning. The first step along that road is undoubtedly universal primary education. Universal primary education is a prerequisite for universal adult franchise. Without primary education, you cannot have a literate and informed adult. Without an informed electorate, you cannot have a meaningful democracy. Perhaps that is the reason for the neglect of universal primary education — for that would down the road mean that the feudal lords of the ruling families will no longer be able to rule based simply on loyalty and may even have to work for a living.

Thomas Jefferson emphasized the role of an educated citizenry in a democracy more than two centuries ago:

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” (as cited in Padover, 1939, p. 89)

Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree. (as cited in Padover, 1939, p. 87)

“. . . whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.” (as cited in Padover, 1939, p. 88)

Educational Differences

Now a Berkeley anthropologist, John Ogbu, has published Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement. It’s the result of a nine-month ethnographic study in Shaker Heights, an affluent Cleveland suburb where one third of the population and half the public school students are black. Black parents invited Ogbu to explain why whites average a 3.45 Grade Point Average; blacks average a 1.9.

Ogbu, who grew up in Nigeria, says suburban black kids aren’t working very hard. He discussed Low Effort Syndrome with the East Bay Express: [Ogbu] concluded that there was a culture among black students to reject behaviors perceived to be "white," which included making good grades, speaking Standard English, being overly involved in class, and enrolling in honors or advanced-placement courses.

The students told Ogbu that engaging in these behaviors suggested one was renouncing his or her black identity. Ogbu concluded that the African-American peer culture, by and large, put pressure on students not to do well in school, as if it were an affront to blackness.

Middle-class and upper-class black parents didn’t combat this culture, Ogbu found. Parents had an odd doublethink about their children’s success: They saw the schools as white institutions that can’t be trusted to respect black students. Yet black parents delegated responsibility for their children’s success to the schools, assuming that they’d fulfilled their role by moving to Shaker Heights. Black parents care about their children’s grades, but are less likely than others to keep track of their children’s homework or participate in school activities, Ogbu found. In their view, if Jamal goofs off, it’s his teacher’s fault for not nurturing him and motivating him to work harder. Ogbu found Shaker Heights teachers expect less of black students. But he told the Express that was natural. "Week after week the kids don’t turn in their homework. What do you expect teachers to do?"

Are suicide bombers stupid?

Here are the Five Laws of Stupidity according to Carlo Cipolla:

1 – Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
2 – The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
3 – A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
4 – Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
5 – A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

Types of Human Actions
Hapless: Someone whose actions tend to generate self-damage, but also to create advantage for someone else.
Intelligent: Someone whose actions tend to generate self-advantage, as well as advantage for others.
Bandit: Someone whose actions tend to generate self-advantage while causing damage to others.
Stupid: A stupid person causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

The Battle Within

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good–he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person too." The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed." Anonymous