Whatever It Takes!

In the midst of controversy over foreign worker laws in Canada and the USA, the reality of the effect outsourcing is having on our economies is becoming painfully clear. Companies are either bringing in foreign workers who will accept lower wages, or simply having the work done in other countries. Globalization is here. There is no going back.

As an educator, I immediately jump to the question, “what are we going to do to ensure our children are prepared for what the future brings?” I found inspiration to tackle this question in an article in the Smithsonian about the Finnish education system.

40 years ago the Finnish people made a decision to make their education system the driving force for economic recovery. The brilliance of this idea is in its simplicity: make sure each of our children leaves the education system prepared to contribute to the economy.

The implementation of this idea is anything but simple. The journey that took the Finnish education system to the esteemed position of one of the top systems in the world is complex and involved many interesting policy changes. These changes included requiring teachers to have a Master’s degree in education, moving decision making power to the level of town council, and delaying the start of school until age 7.

Apart from the interesting details about how changes in policy have shaped the system, what struck me in this article was the identification of a general attitude that is consistent with the goal of making the education system the driving force behind their economy. The prevailing attitude of teachers and school is, ‘lets do whatever it takes to find success for each student.’

Rather than a ‘sort and select’ mentality that divides students into those that will succeed and those that are hopeless, each student is treated as though they are capable of learning. Teachers in each school work as a team to find a path for each child’s success. Of course, success is not the same for each student. The path they take may be to one of Finland’s vocational schools that teach various trades, or to university. The end goal is for each child to become a working member of the Finnish society, and ultimately support the economy.

I recently found a beautiful example of this ‘whatever it takes’ attitude in Boston’s Orchard Gardens School, where a school with low test scores and high levels of violence was transformed by a bold move to fire all the security guards and hire arts teachers!

Because I am a firm believer in the power of arts education to challenge and inspire kids, the positive turn around in this school was not surprising to me. What was impressive was the courage and conviction it took for the Principal of the school to take, what some would see as, a huge risk. He did what he thought was necessary to create a transformation at this failing school. A choice that seems against current conventional wisdom — scrap school security and bring in arts teachers.

If we all have the courage to do whatever it takes to ensure that each child is set to be a contributing productive member of our future economy, I think in 40 years we would see an extraordinary transformation. As educators, we are responsible for ensuring the success of our children. If we are to take this responsibility seriously, we need to look at our education systems with big picture thinking and start making some bold choices.

I know that the arts are part of what it takes to ensure each child can make a meaningful contribution to our society. Please watch this video about Boston’s Orchard Gardens School and share it with others. Lets have a conversation about what arts education means for our future!