Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Hardening of Our Hands

It only took me about a year, but a piece I wrote last winter about farming in the American South (I originally called it, "The Hardening of our Hands") went up on Salon last night. Don't read the comments -- they're perhaps predictably puerile and hateful -- but the piece itself is in good shape, I think. It's here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Real Winners Don't Compete

"From [Finnish education expert's Sahlberg's] point of view, Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students' performances if you don't test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability [for teachers]...? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America's school reformers are trying to do.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests...Instead, the public school's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using tests they create themselves...what matters is that in Finland all teachers are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility...
And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from a Finnish writer named Samuli Puronen: 'Real winners do not compete.'"

The result is some of the best students in the world. Finnish youngsters score way better (ironically, on a standardized test) than their American counterparts. One of the reasons for this is that in Finland there is no such thing as a private school. When everybody in society sends their kids to the same schools, regardless of their money or power, public education becomes a nationwide problem. 

In Finland, at least, they seem to have figured out some answers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reading Cheever

The indie lit webzine Bookslut was nice enough to run an essay I wrote about reading John Cheever's novel Bullet Park at my grandmother's old house in Westport, Connecticut. It's here if you want to take a look.