June 24, 2018
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We need more accountability and trust

By Elizabeth Jalbert Pecoraro, Special to the BDN

The theme of “accountability and trust” was so deliciously obvious in two recent editorials — ” Learning From Finland” on July 20 and ” Where Was the Oversight?” on July 21. In both, the underlying question seeks to identify the who, when, where, what and how if the public should decide to exercise its right to know that a problem exists.

Because the second article addresses a more narrow outlook of time and place, I shall summarize thusly: the Maine Turnpike Authority has recently affirmed that their investigation and scrutiny of former Director Paul Violette’s creative bookkeeping and mysterious misplacement of money and gift cards was clearly intentionally or unintentionally suspended. In both, MTA and Violette “accountability and trust” must equally be questioned before being excused or legally accused.

The other article also is thematic of “accountability and trust” regarding Finland is an invaluable illustration of the possibilities the United States should explore to improve its own education system. Finland’s education system is reputed as “today one of the best in the world.” This sterling reputation was no overnight success.

To summarize briefly, 30 years ago, Finland faced a bleak, economic future where growing and cutting trees was becoming unsustainable and no longer an assurance of future jobs for its people. What to do? Disentangling this Gordian Knot in their nation’s education system must have been daunting, to say the least.

Had they asked for advice from any American 30 years ago, Finns may have been given this sage advice: “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.”

Of course, the American education system at that time was experimenting with “Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum,” the “New Math,” “Special Education” and “Identifying the Gifted and Talented Student,” right up to “No Child left Behind” and, most recently, “Race to the Top.” The “reinvention of the wheel” is trotted out and in the guise of educational reform whenever Americans inquire about their education system. And, of course, from whom do they expect to have answers? In every state or national election year, candidates brandish quick and relatively simple, though sometimes expensive, solutions — to be implemented, of course, by all teachers, prepared or not.

Some years ago, I happened to watch a television documentary about the people from Finland. The Finns are a peace-loving nation and are a widely admired people for being serious — they don’t even smile while they’re dancing. Yet bravely and boldly they began a 30-year-long educational makeover.

First, it began at the collegiate level by preparing student teachers to head classrooms and to earn master’s degrees in specific content areas. As graduates, they faced possibilities of not being hired, as only one in 10 applicants is hired. Finland not only focused on teacher preparation, but now placed its trust in them as they taught. Common practice and adequate time are available so teachers can collaborate with other teachers to find ways to improve their teaching skills to better serve their students and themselves. Finland considers its teachers to be scientists and their classrooms as laboratories. Teachers are trusted and admired.

Finland is an example of what a country can accomplish if it is willing to go the mile and risk taking charge of change. Note where and with whom Finland began to overhaul its educational process of reform. Also, note the number of years (30) they willingly and wisely invested in this experiment.

Granted, America’s problems may be different than Finland’s, but isn’t it possible to exit this merry-go-round of blame? Shouldn’t we seriously begin scrutinizing every level of our American education — beginning with teacher preparation at the collegiate level? Isn’t it possible to escape the booby-hatch trap of election time when then and only then are educators courted for their ideas and votes?

Maybe Finns don’t smile while they are dancing because they know that putting your best foot forward requires concentration and serious timing — dancewise and otherwise.

Elizabeth Jalbert Pecoraro of Fort Kent is a retired teacher who taught in Caribou, Westbrook, Richmond, Gardiner, Augusta and Madawaska.

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