Is Finland’s Education System As Good As They Claim
Podcast: Axe to the Root
There is no place like home. And when you are a 6-7-8-9-year-old kid, and your parents kick you out of their home to preserve their happiness, you are a homeless kid. It doesn’t matter if they send you to the nicest school system ever designed, with the most careful and qualified teachers, all with Master’s degrees – you are still a homeless kid, period. And when you are a homeless kid, in the minority among a population of adults who are all too happy of their selfish present, never really thinking of their future, then you grow up with the idea that you have no future, and no purpose. Yeah, for a short time, your bureaucratic well-paid surrogate mothers and fathers in school may be able to manipulate you to have a surrogate purpose and surrogate future. But eventually, it is fake, and it thins out, and you are left again like the little match girl in the Andersen’s story, in a cold world of selfish adults too busy celebrating their happiness.
Book of the Week:
– The Final Circle of Paradise by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
– The Second Invasion from Mars by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
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Welcome to Episode 13 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes we will be talking about the educational system of Finland, about the multiple praises it has received over the last two decades from many quarters, about the value of these praises, and about the real situation with education in Finland.
In case you missed that show, education in Finland has been the perennial propaganda pitch in the mouths of socialist educators, government bureaucrats, leftist politicians, and leftists whatever else you may find out there, and occasionally, not just leftist but also supposedly conservative types, those of the our-schools-are-different sort. Education in Finland is splendid, it’s a modern miracle of the collectivist mindset, the kids are all happy, and indeed, the very system is designed to make them happy. There are no exams for students, there is no assessment for teachers. Politicians are not allowed in the schools, and teachers enjoy a very high social status. And Finland is always number one in education, compared to the rest of the world. Oh, I almost forgot, it’s an entirely government-organized and tax-payer supported system; homeschooling is not allowed in Finland. See? We don’t need homeschooling and private schools. The government can provide good education, after all.
And in this episode we will try to get to the bottom of this and see how much these claims are real, and what’s behind the supposed Finnish socialist miracle in education.
People and cultures have short memories. Very short. And not only short memories but also serious cognitive dissonance – which is only a nicer way of saying “schizophrenia.” It was just 70 years ago that Europe lived through one of the worst nightmares in its history: a war that murdered 60 million people and left the continent in ruins. It wasn’t a natural disaster like the plague, where no one knew where it came from and why. It was caused by very deliberate and systematic human ideologies which elevated the collective to the level of a god and denigrated the individual to the level of a cog in the big machine of the state. Obviously, murder and robbery and torture on a large scale can not become the norm unless the worth of the individual is destroyed; and that’s what these ideologies in Europe did, before their proponents were able to commit their atrocities. Europe in the early 20thcentury wasn’t a ripe field for murderous dictators – there was too much of a Christian legacy of belief in the worth of the individual. It had to take a generation for the populations of Europe to accept the normality of mass murder.
So, how did the dictators do it? How did they change the cultural legacy of a whole continent?
By noble, commendable, and beautiful means: education. Or, to put it in different words, “It’s for the children,” probably the second most popular defense of government tyranny, the first being, “But who will build the roads?” By the beginning of the 20th century, Christendom had produced the most literate, educated, and scientifically and technologically advanced civilization in history, and it was obvious that given its natural development based on the Christian worldview. And yet, when the dictators of the 1920s and the 1930s came to power, their most popular propaganda point was, “Here’s free government education, it’s for the children, we want the children to be happy.” You don’t say no to that, do you, if you don’t want to appear as being against happiness for children. Seriously, what kind of a heartless brute are you? The state just wants to make children happy. Are you against it?
It didn’t take long to see what the purpose of state-provided happiness for children was: about the same as the purpose of farmer-provided happiness for his pigs. The children educated by the state in the 1920s and the 1930s were then, in the 1940s, sent to their slaughter by the same state that educated them to happiness. A total of 60 million of them died in that state-produced happiness. That, without counting another 50-60 million that are not considered war casualties because they died in peacetime death camps . . . er, scratch that, re-education camps. Education – and re-education as well – is an important issue, after all, and a good government will always take care of it, if it wants to secure the loyalty of its people. We saw it in China where the Communist party educated to happiness the children of the 1950s, in order to make them cannon fodder for its Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and the 1970s. The Communist governments in Eastern Europe also educated the children to happiness, and while Eastern Europe was spared the same carnage as Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Mao’s China, by the 1980s many these educated-to-happiness children were more unhappy than any children before in history, and were living in the same living conditions as their feudal serfs ancestors a hundred years earlier.
It’s not like this connection between government education and tyranny is some obscure and secret part of history. To the contrary, it is known even today in Germany that the laws governing education are in principle the same as those passed by the Nazis in the 1930s. In 1999, Rabbi Daniel Lapin posted in The American Enterprise his essay, “Adolph Hitler.” Openly paying homage to C.S. Lewis in the beginning, the essay was an imaginary letter from hell written by Adolph Hitler to Julius Streicher, one of the propaganda chiefs of Nazi Germany, hanged after convicted in the Nuremberg trials. In the letter, Hitler gloats over the fact that the same America which in the 1930s and the 1940s was horrified by many atrocities of Nazi Germany, is now adopting the same atrocities as “liberal policies.” One specific paragraph deserves our attention here:
Finally, dear Julius, you will remember what I frequently said and wrote in Mein Kampf: “The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people.” I explained that as long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation. It is truly heartwarming to see how well this lesson has been learned by the American government. In the name of children, incursions into the private lives of American citizens have been made that we Nazis would have gazed at with open-mouthed admiration. Does it matter that our bodies failed as long as our spirit still triumphs?
I mean, what could be more obvious than the fact that when a government elite wants to educate the children, its real purpose is to indoctrinate the children into obedient slaves to that elite’s agenda?
And yet, all over Europe, including Finland, government education is considered without alternative. If in some places private education is allowed, it must be run like government education. Only in a few places are home education and independent allowed or at least tolerated: the UK (understandably, with its long history of relative liberty and private initiative), the formerly Communist nations in Eastern Europe (understandably, given their direct recent experience), and France (don’t ask me about that one, I have no idea how and why the French government has allowed homeschooling). In all the other countries – especially Germany and Scandinavia – homeschooling is not allowed. Only the government is allowed to educate. And Finland is a very specific, and one could say, a very radical example of it.
For the last 15 years we have been hearing only good things about the education in Finland – which is, by law, only government education, for there is no homeschooling and almost no private education. No, good things in an understatement. Splendid things would be better. Awesome things. Wonderful things. Finland is the future of education. The kids are so happy. There are no drop outs. Everyone is educated. Everyone does what they want best.
And, keep in mind, teachers are happy as well, and everyone in Finland wants to become a teacher. They are very respected in Finland. And they make as much as the doctors in Finland. And you can’t become a teacher unless you have a Master’s degree in a relevant discipline. Finland has found the solution to education.
And of course, Finland is ranked number one, in everything, when it comes to education. Mathematics, reading, literature, science, you name it, those Finnish kids just excel over everyone; and while excelling, they manage to be very happy in school, because the very system is geared to make them happy. Finland is the best, and we don’t need private education, nor homeschooling. Those of us who have been promoting homeschooling in Europe know very well the answer of European socialists and bureaucrats: “No, we don’t need homeschooling, we just need to make it like Finland. They are number one. See, there is an example of government education that has gone right.”
All the praises for Finland’s educational system, of course, come from leftist publications: The New York Times, The Smithsonian, The New Statesman (the publication arm of the British Fabian Society), etc. There is a slide show by Business Insider but it is only parroting points found in The New York Times. As much as I looked around, I couldn’t find any comments on Finland’s education system from real business or technology entities who would take advantage of that top-quality educational system. The only highly visible Finnish company on the world markets – Nokia – has been doing rather mediocre in the last 20 years, since the beginning of Finland’s government’s educational experiment. I haven’t seen multitudes of Finnish graduates hired around the world by multinational companies – whether business or technology. Nor is there any serious rise in interest by those companies towards moving to Finland, where those graduates are. Thus, as of now, these praises – coming from leftist ideologues and government entities – are rather in the sphere of political propaganda. We still don’t have any real data, from the real world, of whether the Finnish experiment is that successful, after all. I mean, I lived the first 19 years of my life under a government that constantly praised and congratulated itself for everything it did, from educational system to technologies, to manufacture, to agriculture, etc. When the chips fell in 1989 and numbers were compared to the real world, it turned out the economy of all of Eastern Europe was about equal to the economy of Belgium.
There are specific numbers, though, on which all these leftists base their praises of Finland’s education: the results of the surveys of a project known as PISA, that is, Program for International Student Assessment, organized and run by the inter-government Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (Now, as a side note, I find it ironically symbolic that a project can be named after a city whose most popular building is a leaning tower built on soft ground. But, that may be just me.) PISA was started in 1997 and published its first results in 2000. After that, studies were published for several years in a row starting in 2003 through 2009, and then, finally, in 2012. The PISA results have been quoted widely by government and inter-government entities, and especially by high-level UN-bureaucrats. In short, if there is a place where top educational bureaucrats go to get the data for their propaganda and promoting their agendas, it is PISA. And government bureaucrats are very self-conscious of the fact, given that the study is entirely sponsored from the budgets of the participating countries. And they pay big money to participate. It is not clear how much the study costs: such information is not posted on the PISA website, and I couldn’t find it anywhere else. I could find several companies that brag on their websites about getting grants for participating in the PISA project from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – and the sums are in the ballpark of $20+ million each grant. And who knows how much is spent that is not even accounted for, which is the regular mode of operation of government bureaucrats. Our governments are very eager to spend hundreds of millions of our dollars for their own propaganda efforts, folks.
And no wonder, for the PISA project was specifically designed to support the concept of government education. When one looks – from an unbiased perspective – at the methods of the study and the specific spin of the results, it is very clear that the study has no intention whatsoever to actually measure educational results and help educators find the best methods. The study is simply designed to promote government agenda.
The most obvious sign of the real agenda behind PISA comes when we see the target of the so-called “study”: Only students in government schools. That’s right, folks, homeschoolers and students in private schools are explicitly excluded. Not just tacitly excluded, but explicitly excluded; in the very first edition of the PISA reports back in 2000, this was very explicitly said. That is, from the very beginning, the bureaucrats running PISA declared, in prtactice, “We want to measure education results, but we want to make sure we exclude those methods of education that have shown outstanding results in all categories. Like homeschooling.” Why? Well, obviously, what government will pay money only to to make it a public knowledge – and confirm by international studies, at that – that the homeschoolers in the country outperform the government schools by light years? Like one of the Murphy’s Laws of science says, “When doing an experiment, it’s always beneficial to know the results ahead of time.” When that experiment covets the money of a sponsor, it’s always beneficial to avoid results that the sponsor wouldn’t like. That much should be clear to all.
There are other, little things in the study that are also indicative of its nature as pure government propaganda: like measuring the availability of free transportation to school, or of free lunches, and the calories content of those free lunches, etc. One wonders what that has to do with education; and I can’t see any other explanation for including those in the study, except to make sure homeschoolers and private schools – if some country makes the mistake of including them – have a good balance to their outstanding academic results.
For all practical purpose, then, the PISA study is nothing more than pure, unadulterated government propaganda. There is no other explanation why an organization would run a study of educational performance and would avoid the best examples of achievement. Imagine McDonald’s paying for a study of the food in the best restaurants in the world, and specifically excluding all those that are not fast food, comparing only between McDonald’s, Chick-Fil-A, Burger King, and a few other fast food chains. Imagine China running a study on the best developed economies in the world that includes only Communist countries like China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, etc. And in fact, the national bureaucrats whose countries participate do know the study is government propaganda, and they do expect it to act as government propaganda. No one has any delusions about the objectivity of the study; and most of the participants expect to see the study praising their own country, irrespective of the results. After the results in 2009, India and China withdrew from participation; The Chinese ministry of education didn’t explain why, but the Indian government accused PISA in using standards that were “culturally unfair to Indian students.” Both countries had scored quite low, and under normal circumstances one would think that the local educational bureaucrats would use the survey to find the gaps and improve the quality of education. But that wasn’t their purpose in the first place. Their purpose was to use another world-government organization to praise their own system, whether it was good or not. When it didn’t work, they saw no reason for participation. The Chinese Communists, though, made a smarter move: They did return to participation, but this time only for specific isolated regions – like Shanghai. And in those specific isolated regions, only certain schools were chosen as being part of the school system; in Shanghai, for example, about 2/3 of the schools were excluded, because they supposedly were not part of the government school system. Under Communism, 2/3 of the schools are not government schools? Yeah, right. Predictably, in the 2012 survey those Chinese regions scored the highest of all participants. The Chinese Communists know how to do propaganda.
In the first several issues of the study, though – 2000, 2003, 2006 – Finland scored the highest in all categories; especially in the academic categories. What more could the socialists of the world ask for? There it is, a heavily socialist country of total government control over education, and, there, it scored the highest. For about a decade, everyone was studying the Finnish miracle of education. Then came 2009, and Finland’s score fell a little. And then came 2012. Finland’s score almost collapsed, marking significant drops in all academic categories. Oh, but this was not the worst to come. The 2012 study included a question, “Do you feel happy at school?” Not really a question one cares about when children need to be prepared for life, but then again, the PISA study wasn’t really concerned about real preparation for real life anyway. Besides, with Finland’s falling scores of the previous three years, it should have helped Finland, right?
Guess what. It didn’t. On that specific question, Finland scored 4th or 5th from the bottom – a little over 50% of the children surveyed said that they felt happy at school. Compared with the majority of the participating countries where more than 80% felt happy at school, this was a disastrously low result.
It was a smashing “wait, what?” moment. Finland’s children are unhappy in school? You mean, the children who are lucky to live in the only country in the world that places emphasis on happiness over academic achievement – these kids are unhappy? Children who are basically free to do whatever they want in school, children who have no exams to pass, no homework to do, no contests to be stressed about, no special schools for better students? Children whose recesses are 75 minutes, and whose every single need and desire is met and paid for by the state? These children are not happy in school???
To add insult to the injury, when we ask the adults, they are the happiest nation in the world. Several international surveys place Finland at the top of the ladder in terms of the happiness of its population. The rest of the world complains about lots of stuff, people in other nations are always unhappy and discontent with their lot in life, but when it comes to the Finns, they are always happy and satisfied – even among their fellow Scandinavians in Sweden and Norway. As a Swedish newspaper declared several years ago, “The Finns have found the fountain of happiness.”
But their kids are among the least happy children in the world? How is this possible?
This left the world’s community of educational bureaucrats speechless. After 2012, there were a few ignorant newspapermen who didn’t get the message and continued babbling about Finland’s supposedly miraculous educational experiment. But in general, Finland is not given as an example anymore. The Finnish ministry of education, which in previous years just casually claimed they didn’t care for any results of any studies, suddenly decided that the 2012 study is quite disturbing, and called for re-thinking the system. Some voices in Finland itself even suggested that a system that doesn’t assess its teachers will inevitably lead to complacency and stagnation among the teachers – seems like the Finns have begun discovering hot water, any average American business owner could have told them so. In general, no one knew what to say. The supposedly miraculous socialist experiment with government education collapsed within 15 years of its beginning, and failed to deliver not only on academic achievements – which was the focus of the PISA study – but also on what supposedly was the main focus of the Finnish educational bureaucrats, namely, happy children.
No one had an answer to this mystery. And no one still has.
But a covenantal analysis of the situation in Finland gives us the answer. And it not only gives us the answer, it also shows that contrary to the cheerful image socialists are presenting of Finland, the Finnish society is morally rotten to the bone. And the Finnish educational experience was a hopeless attempt to fill the gap, and provide for the children of Finland something that the society is not capable of providing anymore. And it shows that the inability of the educational system to deliver on its promises over a long term only shows that even with the best intentions, what government bureaucrats can’t deliver, they can’t deliver, because in God’s ethical/judicial reality, it has to be delivered by another institution. And therefore, eventually Finland’s education will collapse to the state of everyone else, unless there is a spiritual revival and a turn to the cultural solutions of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Before we even get to an analysis of the educational system, we need to start with another statistics, one which clearly shows the Finnish attitude to children. And that is that the fertility rate of Finnish women is 1.7 children per woman, well below the replacement rate for the population. It’s not as bad as Germany with its 1.4 children per woman, but it is still very low and decreasing rapidly over the last 10 years. For the last 10 years, death rate in Finland has been greater than the birth rate, and the gap has been widening. The birth rate has been low in Finland for several decades now, so low that the population pyramid is entirely reversed. In any demographically healthy society, the largest age group is that of children up to 15 years of age. In Finland today, the largest group is adults between 55 and 60 years of age – they outnumber the children by about 50%. For all practical purposes, Finland is a childless society.
There are all kinds of nativist and racist and nationalist groups in Europe and in Finland who blame it on “Jewish” conspiracies: somehow some Jewish world elites work to stop white Europeans from having children while encouraging the growth of other races. But the truth about Finland is that not only aren’t people discouraged from having more children, Finland actually has the best conditions and the most encouraging government policies for families who want to have children. This is a country that ranks in the top ten in the world in terms of individual income. It has very low population density. It has a number of government policies that literally push money and benefits and privileges in the hands of mothers who give birth and raise children. This is not Germany or the UK with their monstrous population density. This is not Eastern Europe with its low living standards from the decades of Communism. This is Finland where the people have all they need, and the country side – fertile and productive – is literally depopulated for the lack of people.
And they prefer to not have children. There is no way to blame this on a world conspiracy. There is a severe problem with the very soul and the moral character of the Finnish nation.
And keep in mind, these are the same Finnish people who also rank very high in the world in their professed happiness. They have the money, they have the high living standard, they have the living space, they have the benefits, everything they need to have children, they choose to not have children . . . and they are awfully happy that way. The baby-boomers’ generation is about to retire, there are not enough young people to take care of them and still keep the economy running . . . and they are still very happy about their own lives. These are people happy with themselves, without children, and self-consciously preparing to live off the back of their children. These are not people who are unhappy and would like to have more children but they just don’t have the means. Theirs is the happiness of selfishness and self-indulgence, not the happiness of a life of work, self-sacrifice, and accomplishment. True, the Finnish culture has deep Christian roots. But of those roots they have only kept the legalistic part: Keeping certain rules of conduct. (The Finnish society, according to even British observers, is religiously committed to many restrictions on personal expression.) What the Finns never learned from Christianity, apparently, is future-orientation and self-sacrifice. Or, if they have in the past, they have forgotten it. it’s all about themselves now, even the external self-control are obedience to legal rules.
The obvious conclusion is this: Children are a burden. The Finns don’t need them. They are happy without them. And, of course, even where they have them, they are all too happy to send them off to the government to educate. “Leave it to the experts” means, “We don’t want to bother.” Ship the little rascals to the government, let’s enjoy life. And ostracize parents who love their children too much, and prefer to keep them home and educate them. No matter what the Finns may say, the Finnish society is a society that is in love with its present, and at war against its own future, and it has no love in its heart for those who will live in the future, its own children.
And anyone who thinks the children don’t notice it, has absolutely no idea of child psychology. Children know when they are unwanted and ignored; they know when they are considered a burden and a hassle. They may not be able to express it with the literary categories of the adults; and they may not even be self-consciously aware of what they feel and know. But they feel it and they know it very well. And in their still immature state of lower self-control, their perception of being unwanted will heavily influence their behavior and their motivation. It is not by chance that on that bottom of the list of most unhappy children, Finland is joined by other countries – like Germany and the Czech Republic – of high living standards but low birth rates. Children know.
To be honest, whoever designed Finland’s educational experiment, was a genius. He realized what the children lacked and needed: a family. Thus, the experiment – at least at the beginning – drew heavily on the experience of homeschoolers. Yes, folks, the deepest irony at the bottom of this most praised by all socialists educational system were principles borrowed from homeschooling. The lack of assessment of teachers was just an institutional form of parental authority: In a homeschooling family, no outside authority assesses the qualifications of the parents, right? They are teachers by default, by the very nature of their parental authority. The lack of exams and grades and competition and rigid curriculum in the early stages was also borrowed from homeschoolers, and particularly from the unschooling movement. The extensive focus on individual assistance was entirely a homeschooling thing: after all, any institutional educational system is based on mass production; teachers have no time for individual students and their personal development. The long periods of play and personal liberty to pursue topics of personal interest – well, gee, where did that idea come from, if not from homeschooling? If bureaucrats could have thought of it independently, why couldn’t they think of it for 200 years, and it only appeared to them after the first generation of homeschoolers demonstrated its effectiveness?
It was then natural and inevitable that in the first several years of the experiment it will produce outstanding results. Not in comparison to homeschooling, of course – only homeschooling can compete with homeschooling, institutional schools are lagging far behind – but in comparison to other government systems which still work under the factory, conveyor-belt model. Of course, when children in Finland are being treated as something more than just cogs in a vast machine, they will feel – comparatively to what they felt before – more wanted, more loved, and more encouraged. Any little step you take towards homeschooling will inevitably produce such results, period. More wanted, more loved, more encouraged will produce a higher level of motivation and commitment. And, as every teacher knows, the child’s motivation and commitment are 95% of the process of learning. In such a system, the teachers didn’t even have to be all Masters – after all, homeschooling mothers with very little formal education produce miracles with their children in the US. We could say that Finland actually spent way too much to produce the effect; the concept of making the kids feel at home was enough.
But it was also to be expected that it couldn’t continue forever. The system tried to mimic the home, but it did it not as a family, it did it as a hive. The main ethical problem remained unresolved. Children are still a burden to their parents. The home is still not the place where the children belong. They belong to a hive where surrogate fathers and mothers are paid to professionally make them feel like home; professionally produce in them motivation, commitment, and purpose. The children eventually will figure out that the school reform is only designed to mask the fact that their parents are happy without them, and the whole world of adults is happy without children; the school – for all its attractiveness – is only a form of friendly concentration camp where the undesirables of the society are kept so that the majority is kept happy. And when the children figure that out, they will lose their motivation, and will deteriorate academically. And also, will be a generation of unhappy children in a world of happy, selfish adults. Did I say “will”? My bad. They already are.
Because there is no place like home. And when you are a 6-7-8-9-year-old kid, and your parents kick you out of their home to preserve their happiness, you are a homeless kid. It doesn’t matter if they send you to the nicest school system ever designed, with the most careful and qualified teachers, all with Master’s degrees – you are still a homeless kid, period. And when you are a homeless kid, in the minority among a population of adults who are all too happy of their selfish present, never really thinking of their future, then you grow up with the idea that you have no future, and no purpose. Yeah, for a short time, your bureaucratic well-paid surrogate mothers and fathers in school may be able to manipulate you to have a surrogate purpose and surrogate future. But eventually, it is fake, and it thins out, and you are left again like the little match girl in the Andersen’s story, in a cold world of selfish adults too busy celebrating their happiness.
In the final account, no matter how well it started, Finland’s educational experiment will end in ruins, just like any other educational experiment that has tried to substitute a government institution for the family. No matter how bright he teachers, no matter how well-paid they are, no matter how much they try to produce happiness in their students, and no matter how much they copy from homeschooling . . . none of these external things will solve the real internal problem of the Finnish society. And that problem is in the hearts of the Finns themselves, in their selfish love for themselves, and their utter lack of interest in the future, and therefore in their own children. Finland may continue the inertia from its Christian past for a time, until a generation comes which is so bitter against its parents for their selfishness that it eventually breaks with their conventions and rebels against the past – because it has no future anyway.
God is not mocked.
This week I will assign for reading two books, not just one. The books are short, but they are laden with meaning, and they are written by two Russian brothers, science fiction writers, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The first book is titled The Final Circle of Paradise (in its English translation; the original Russian title was Predatory Things of Our Age). The other book is The Second Invasion from Mars. Strugatsky’s style is enjoyable, but keep in mind, they are more philosophers than they are fiction writers. Follow the stories carefully. You may discover in them Finland as I described it earlier. And, well, you may discover the modern American society also.
And I will again ask you to consider helping me in my mission in Bulgaria. It’s a fertile field, and we need seed to put in it. The seed is there – hundreds of books that will help us lay that foundation for a Christian civilization. Visit BulgarianReformation.com and donate. We have the opportunity to out-write, out-publish, and out-speak the opposition to the Kingdom of God. Help me use that opportunity.