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cutting your own throat?

The idea that the South commemorates/venerates the Civil War is not new but the analysis here — that the decision to focus on manual agriculture, rather than do anything that might add value or elevate the status of slaves or freedmen — was right to the point. It’s understood that the North prevailed due to its industrial base, a key asset to the warfare of the time, but I hadn’t considered that there were decisions made beyond the simplest market analysis.

[From Freakonomics » Why Does the South Still Commemorate the Civil War, But Not the North? Bring Your Questions for Historian Peter Coclanis]

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What’s Finland got that we ain’t got?

Link: What’s Finland got that we ain’t got?

NEA – What we can learn from Finland’s successful school reform

Couple of things come to mind: 

  • Finland is a pretty homogeneous place, not a lot of immigrants to accommodate, in either numbers or diverse languages
  • It has a reputation for social equality (as does the rest of Scandinavia)
  • It has some well-known high-tech industries (Saab, Nokia)
  • There are benefits to being a small independent country instead of a superpower.

Couple of things I looked up:

  • Finland’s population is 5,338,395 vs 307 million for the US
  • $34K GDP vs $46K for the US
  • 64% of Finns live in towns, with most in one southern central plain: 81% of Americans live in cities or suburbs, with densities for both countries at 44 and 84 people per sq mile, respectively. 

Interestingly, Finland’s organized labor is more prominent and more powerful than we have here in the US. But they’re not the problem. 

The perpetual school reform movement is a societal and cultural issue more than anything. We talk about equality as a key part of our democratic ideals but our thought leader abandon public schools for private schools as soon as they can. 

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That this question needs to be asked says a lot.

Link: That this question needs to be asked says a lot.

Was any school ever improved by closing it? Did students get better education or learn English because their school was closed?

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what determines readiness for school?

So what’s magical about the age of five for children to enter school? And what should they be expected to do and know at that age? Are there any entry requirements for entering school? We have a lot of assessments of kids at various levels, both formal and informal, from daily/weekly checkins to report cards and standardized tests. And of course we have graduation requirements. But do we ever assess a child’s readiness for school before they arrive? 

Why not? 

We do require an assessment if a child wants to be admitted before their fifth birthday. But what’s so magical about being five? It seems to be an open question. 

Or we could learn this example, formerly used in New Zealand:

Children entered school on their fifth birthday, whenever that fell in the year. They were then moved along to the “primary” grades when they were considered ready, whether that was the June after they entered or at the end of the next year. That seemed to allow for those students who were developmentally ready to begin earlier and those who were not to have more time without any attached stigma.

Consider that a 5 year old has 20% more life experience than a 4 year old, that much more time observing, absorbing, questioning, and just being. A lot happens in those years, lots of teeth coming and going, more language skills, more activities (learning to ride a bike and swim, first exposure to organized team sports). Could those used as part of the assessment for readiness? Could a child’s ability to manage their behavior on a sports field or control their body enough to swim or bike be used to gauge their readiness for the classroom? 

Even at the purely academic level, what skills should they have? Their letters and numbers (how far? to 100?), their colors and shapes? Should they understand that letters make sounds as a foundation for phonics and learning to read? Or is just knowing the 26 symbols enough? Is knowing 1-10 enough? Or should they know that some numbers are bigger: if you give a child 10 pieces of candy and ask for three 3, will they count three out or just push the pile across to you? 

For all the talk about graduation requirements and declining performance of college freshmen, maybe it’s time we looked at how prepared kids are to enter school as a way of ensuring they have what they need for a fulfilling life when they leave school.