"There Are No Emergencies"



February marked a number of school visits ranging from elementary (primary) to middle school (lower secondary) and high school (upper secondary.) As the Fulbrighters get their feet wet, mastering public transportation, integrating in schools, and networking in the education world, the question that keeps arising in lunch rooms and private conversations is why do we have so much violence in schools?
History Department, Jyvaskyla Normal School (Lower and Upper Secondary)

I was trying to explain my school environment both to the History department at the University of Jyvaskyla Teacher Training School (the Finnish version of a lab school) and to seniors at Schildt school, both mature audiences who can handle a nuanced discussion. It never occurred to me just how much I’ve internalized and to an extent, normalized the violence in our society.
The new high school seniors asked if gun control might be feasible after Stoneman

How does one explain the dramatic rise in poverty we have experienced over the last few years, and the vast wealth inequality that has existed for much longer? How do I explain that our society values the protection of gun owners’ rights over the innocent lives of children? Mercifully, my Finnish audiences were kind enough to not push the matter as they must have seen how painful these questions were to answer.
Why are there so many school shootings?-Sean, 5th Grade

Trying to make a connection with the high school seniors, I asked about the type of emergencies that they might experience in the area, such as natural disasters or social problems. Floods? They shook their heads. Fires? No, they responded. Hunger, poverty, and violence? I already knew the answer to that question. “There are no emergencies,” the teacher said kindly. Now I am sure Finland has its share of internal problems and the bitter winter is not for the weak. But overall, its students are well taken care of and have a bright future that includes health care and higher education for all citizens.
My little buddies with great questions at Pupuhuhdan School

Teachers know from basic university methodology courses that students whose brains are stressed cannot learn. The degree to which they experience stress varies from school to school, but in our toxic political environment, I think it would be safe to say that no student in our society can honestly say they are carefree, without worry, and unconcerned about “emergencies.” Even in the most stable of schools (by all accounts, Stoneman Douglas is as stable as they get), students still have to worry about whether their peers will turn to violence when it comes to dealing with the very American phenomenon of school shootings.
Of course they can concentrate when there is a break every hour

When we compare PISA scores and debate how to increase student achievement, we should do ourselves a favor and understand that the USA cannot compare itself to any other country. We have created a unique society that for better or for worse is unduplicated anywhere on this planet.  My musings about the school violence question lead me to a very simple conclusion, and recommendation: if our schools are saturated with stress from all facets of society, to reduce stress within our school buildings let us remove any gratuitous burdens heaped on us by politicians. Namely, school scores and rankings.
Well-clothed, fed, in a warm school to protect children from the elements

Imagine if teachers did not have to worry about teaching to a test, or trying to raise their evaluation scores through test scores.

Imagine if we eliminated faculty meetings and professional developments and trusted teachers to acquire these learnings on their own time.

Imagine if we reduced our content standards to emphasize depth vs breadth, to achieve greater mastery.

Imagine if we gave students and teachers brain breaks throughout the day because we already know the kids are overloaded.

Common sense solutions are what the Finnish education system is based on, many solutions which are free or low cost. I for one plan to actively pursue exploring common sense solutions back in California when I return.

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