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Education in the Media, Learning at its Best

Making Clear What Works: The Best Talk on the Finland Phenomenon Yet and What It Means For US

Education is a big conversation. The narrative is filled with buzz words: teacher accountability, AYP, NCLB, high-stakes tests, charter schools, and on and on. Sometimes it gets so heady and academic that I believe that no one truly understands what is being said anymore. The conversation has moved so far away from the basic interaction of adults and children trying to do their best together, that to me it is often meaningless.

Thankfully, every once in awhile (and far more often here on the Co-op) people come along and make sense of the jargon and nuances such that most everyone can say, “oh, okay, I get it now.” And then people can actually organize to put worthy ideas to work. Alan Lishness, Chief Innovation Officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, recently did that at TEDxDirigo

His talk lays plain what Finland is doing in their education system and how we can apply it in places like Maine, my home state, as well as across the United States. He makes it so clear that we are headed in the wrong direction that it demands a national “time out” in our conversation about education reform, a hanging of our heads in humility, and starting over with a fresh set of values and frames for the conversation. I sincerely hope this happens and ask that you please share this talk far and wide, in addition to discussing it thoroughly below.

About Adam Burk

Adam aims to serve the greater good; alleviate unnecessary suffering; and create beautiful, sane human communities in concert with the living planet. Recently, he has helped to rebuild local food systems in Maine in large part through school food services, organized the TEDxDirigo conference, and is a digital organizer with the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA).


4 thoughts on “Making Clear What Works: The Best Talk on the Finland Phenomenon Yet and What It Means For US

  1. Pretty phenomenal breakdown, Adam – I now feel 100x worse for missing any event your help organize.

    Given the funding available to organizations like GMRI – which I imagine to be a mix of private moneys, grants, and subscriptions of all sorts – how do we help them organize into tuition-free educational coöps that compete with schools unwilling or unable to do the work of a Finland? Is that a worthy or possible goal – to bring to the U.S. the city or state as school? Could Maine pull it off? Virginia?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | October 24, 2011, 8:28 am
    • Chad,

      GMRI connects with students all over Maine, in total they have worked with over 60,000 students in Maine through their educational programs for FREE. These are students from the Northern-most point of Maine to the affluent Greater Portland communities. So in that way, I would say they are doing it. I also know that some school board members that were at TEDxDirigo are inviting Alan to come talk with them to explore what can be done at the local district level and I think this is how the change will begin.

      Whether in my work in food systems or this larger conversation about schooling as a whole, it will always take champions and early adapters to further a worthy change. So yes, I think if more people are supported to be courageous than Maine, Virginia, and the US can pull it off.

      With hope,

      Posted by Adam Burk | October 24, 2011, 8:49 am
  2. Adam, I finally finished this and I really love Alan Lishness and this is a sweet talk. The Finland phenomenon is (to me) slightly more complicated than the picture he paints–but my sense in his final anecdote, about it being about relationships and giving everything that’s possible as part of the professional code (we don’t have this in American teaching) is right on. I get really hung up on calling kids “smart” or “the best” kids in the world. I don’t use those words and think they’re labels that diminish what we’re trying to do. So I have to work around that.

    Go Maine, and go your amazing work there. May Maine lead the way in a Finnish kind of educational commitment to children.


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | November 1, 2011, 7:36 pm


  1. Pingback: The Twitter Ten: October 31 | Engaging Educators - October 31, 2011

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