In an interview with David Sorota (How Finland became an education leader), Harvard researcher Tony Wagner explains how Finland has built such a successful educational system. There are several ideas from the article worth expanding on in the context of UnFaculty. The original interview (linked to the article) played on "Progressive Talk", but the ideas don't necessarily imply state intervention:
- The Finnish system confirms what I have learned in my teacher training about the relationship between testing and teaching. The more the situation is about measuing achievement and the less it is about learning about the subject itself, the more it saps student motivation. That applies to teaching as well. We can look at self-determination theory for the model that explains why you, as a teacher, don't like administrative micromanagement, why constant teacher evaluations are a demoralizing and why teachers want to run their own classrooms. It isn't about being lazy. It is about integrity, responsibility and dealing with the real people in your classroom in a creative way that matches who you are and won't fit into a bureaucratic scheme. It is built on "Trust through professionalism," which brings us to...
- Professionalization and content expertise: "They really think about teachers as scientists and the classrooms are their laboratories. So, as I mentioned -- every teacher has to have a masters degree, and it's a content degree where they're not just taking silly courses on education theory and history. They're taking content courses that enable them to bring a higher level of intellectual preparation into the classroom." That is similar to the German model for Gymnasium-level teacher - advanced training in the actual subject matter, across the board, and universities in the Humboldt tradition - also at the basis of US graduate eduction - of combining teaching and research. We can juxtapose this with all the talk over the past ten years about "facilitating" and "student to student learning." Yes, we can take a constructivist educational approach, but you can't get around including someone who actually knows the material in the conversation. That is where teaching and mentoring come in.
- Furthermore, "....they've defined professionalism as working more collaboratively" - something that fits perfectly into the UnCollege and ZTC approaches. UnFaculty define their own profession and build their own reputation and work collaboratively with their students and with colleagues of their choice.
- Wagner points out "... that Finland is rated among the highest in the world in innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. It's not your grandfather's socialist country in any sense of the word." So Finland is not necessarily a lesson in greater centralization and control.
- And importantly, in Finland teachers are held in high esteem. Teaching is a highly desirable job not because it means a long summer holiday, but because it is a respected profession. To the extent that we move outside of institutions, our reputations will be our responsibility. That can mean many things. Politics comes into play here. One of the factors that weighs on higher education is the reputation of humanities educators as left-wing ideologues who grade their students based on conformity to ideology. Whether or not that's true, if we aren't giving grades and transcripts, if nobody is required to take our courses, we will have to work that much harder. We walk a very narrow line between conforming to customer satisfaction and teaching within their "feel good zone" on the one hand (something that Beck University appears to specialize in) and being honest with ourselves. That means being as rigorous and critical with our own ideas as we are with competing narratives and interpretations and demonstrating that rigor with our "customers." Our reputation will be built on integrity and rigor exposed directly to customer critique.
- One more thing: Wagner mentions that the "job for life" aspect of teaching is a source of distrust of teachers among the population. Well, as UnFaculty, we can face our students without that barrier to trust.