This is part two about Michael Moore’s newest documentary, “Where To Invade Next.” In the movie, Moore travels around the world and reports about something wonderful from each country he visits. Last week, I wrote about the great working conditions for middle class Italians and Germans. Here I’m going to talk about some elements of the educational systems in Finland and France.

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Apparently Finland had a mediocre education system in the 1970’s. It ranked 29th in the world along with the United States. The Finns decided to make some extreme changes in their K-12 system and over the years they have worked their way up to Number 1 in the world in quality of education. We are still Number 29.

What did Finland do that worked so well? For one, they cut school hours and days back and now they have the shortest school week and school year. Yet they are Number 1 in performance. They also cut some other things – homework and standardized tests. This would be anathema in the U.S. But in Finland, the education system is now based on the premise that the best way to educate kids is to let them be kids. It is believed that kids need plenty of down time to exercise their imaginations as well as their bodies.

They also need to spend time playing with others to learn social skills and coöperation. Experimenting with music and art, baking, sports, carpentry, etc. are considered important parts of the curriculum. Why? Because they help kids discover what they like to do and what makes them happy. And that is the primary goal of Finnish teachers – to produce well-rounded and well-adjusted kids who have the ability to make themselves and others happy in life. It seems to be working. Remember, these kids tested highest of any country in the world.

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Another amazing fact about the Finnish school system is that every school in the country is the same. There is no shopping around for good school districts. Private schools are prohibited so the wealthy have to make sure that every single public school is up to the standards they want for THEIR children. I understand that this is possible to achieve in a small, relatively homogenous population like Finland but is probably impossible to achieve in America. Nevertheless, the achievement is life changing for the Finns and truly enviable.

The French also have something awesome in their curriculum that made my jaw drop. Lunch. For all French children, even in the poorest school districts, lunch is a gourmet affair and a big part of the school day. Teachers and kids eat together around large tables set with actual china and glassware. Lunch is a full hour and consists of four courses – an appetizer, an entrée, a cheese course fit for a fancy restaurant and a dessert. Water is served with the meal (French kids rarely drink Coke.) The food is served at the tables to the children by the cafeteria staff. The dishes are all well-balanced and look and sound like they are from Michelin Star restaurants. Yet the food budgets in French schools are similar to school lunch budgets here. They do not spend more money than we do.

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The faculty talked about the importance of teaching children what a balanced diet is and to be particular about what they put in their mouths. What a concept! No wonder the French have lower obesity levels, heart disease and diabetes than we do. No wonder they grow up into discerning foodies who see food as a sensual and enjoyable, as well as a necessary part of life. I don’t blame the average American as much now for being a food troglodyte – where are they supposed to learn anything about nutrition, vegetables or balanced meals? Certainly not in American schools. Good food is a major part of French culture. Fast Food is a major part of ours. Why should our schools be different than the rest of the society?

Michael Moore’s documentary gave me great hope for the world. Problems that we see as insurmountable, someone else has solved. Things that we think can’t be changed, have been changed for the better somewhere else. Moore shows that humans are capable of great things when the climate is right.

Opening minds is the salvation for the world – one issue at a time, one country at a time.

Categories: Education, film, Movie Review, Movies, Reviews

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13 replies

  1. WOW! Ellin, this makes me want to go be a kid again in school, but this time in Finland. To the “Way Back Machine” Sherman! I will say that the NYC schools were pretty good BITD (Sorry), and so were a couple of other school systems in the country. The reason we are still #29 worldwide is inconsistency, not to mention that our educational system is now based on the bottom line. We cut programs considered silly and unimportant like gym, music, drama and art etc., all the things that make for a well rounded individual, because they cost too much. Our society considers any one who becomes a teacher a loser.., unable to cut it in the dog eat dog real world, but they will let these people teach our kids, Huh!? Some of the best people I’ve met and the greatest experiences I’ve had were the result of teachers who cared. If we throw them away what’s left? Position #29, that’s what’s left. Thank you so much Ellin


    • One of the key points in the documentary is that educators in Finland are well respected and well paid. You’re right that as long as we don’t pay or respect our teachers, we will never get the quality and the commitment overall that Finland has. Also, when you stymie teachers at every turn by cutting budgets and resources and programs, they get discouraged and start phoning it in. There are some great schools in the U.S. But what Finland has done is to make every school great AND the same. Noone starts life disadvantaged because they came from an inferior school system. What a concept! What a difference that would make here!

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      • I guess it helps that Finland is a small country whereas a few US states are the size of their country. Achieving uniformity here seems like am enormous task with so much emphasis put on state’s rights. While I understand this, some things need to be nationwide like voting rights/procedures and education. Our self worth and personal pride depend on being able to hold our heads high no matter which part of the US we come from. Politics and special interests have destroyed any semblance of unity for the USA, a disease that will bring us down if we can’t fix it NOW!


  2. There are some great ideas there. The schools in Canada are in real trouble. We need change here too.


  3. I am so looking forward to watching this documentary. It’s eye-opening in many ways. I suppose this is the best thing about globalization – being able to learn from others.


    • The problem is that America is so diverse and splintered, it’s hard to get consensus on anything – even something as simple as banning people on the terrorist watch to get military grade assault rifles! But the point of the documentary is that it is possible to work together, intelligently, for a common goal.


  4. Interesting post. I had read a bit recently about the Finnish education system and they certainly must be doing something right. I had not read about the French system and I think it’s an excellent one not only for teaching children about food and good nutrition but just to enjoy sitting round a table to eat and talk. Families don’t do that so much now.


  5. Such a relief to hear about a documentary about positive factors i our world!! Thanks for telling us about this, Marilyn.


    • The kudos on this one go to our friend, Ellin Curley, but I totally agree with you. considering how disturbing the news is and is likely to remain, it’s nice that there’s some optimism somewhere. I tend to be pretty cynical, so this is a healthy thing for me, too.


    • It does give me hope to see other societies mastering certain basics like respect for one another and intelligent support for groups in the society, like children. It is possible for man to get outside of the “me” instinct and look at the bigger picture and the greater good!

      Liked by 2 people

      • We need open minds, now more than ever.
        Thanks, Ellin. See youse guys in a few weeks!!


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