The GERM vs. Finnish vs. January Education Model (Learner-Centered Education) Controversy

Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) is currently what we have going in the United States public school system. It has also infected Australia, England, and oh – you name it.

To boil it down, it is test-based accountability. It is backed by a list of celebrities: Bill Gates, President Obama, Arne Duncan, Michele Rhee, millions of business leaders, and Congress. Who are we, authors of Fixing Public Education – the new book out last month – to fly in the face of all that backing for high-stakes testing, national standards, the force-feeding of content into children, and the firing of teachers who cannot, do not, or won’t go along with it?*

We are merely ten experienced, highly educated, teachers and administrators (active and retired in both categories), who say differently.

That is who we are.

Next, let us get a clear picture of what we are talking about. One of the authors, Dr. Anthony Dallmann-Jones, compiled a chart to specifically illustrate these differences. Included in the chart is the “Finnish Model” that has been held up as a taunting goal to improve our USA school system. All those “ed. reformers” saying we should be more like Finland education neglect to point out that Finnish schools do not have standardized testing, students attend school fewer hours a day/year, teachers are paid much higher salaries, and are sincerely respected (it is difficult to get IN as a teacher in Finland the system and its personnel are so respected). But Dallmann-Jones placed the Finnish Model in the middle so the viewer can get a crystal clear description of the January (Learner-Centered) Education Model.**

Please open the pdf chart here and run your eyes from left to right in the categories mentioned. Feel free to print it out and pass it around.

Finnish-GERM-JEM-EfHG Way

Yes, you are correct. We are a LONG way from having a public school system by the January Education Model. But it is not as far out as you may think. Many (not all) Montessori schools have been operating along these lines for some time. Many private schools (Summerhillian type schools, for example) have been doing so for many decades. But it has yet to reach the public sector. WHY?

It is a good question and this post is already too long, so let’s briefly look at two reasons:

Why are public schools not moving to genuine child-centered education?

1) Fear: Our public school system is fear-based. Especially now. Heads are rolling down classroom aisles – student heads, teacher heads, administrator heads. Teachers are not even helping one another in many districts because tightly held tips for better teaching may give another teacher an advantage at testing time. Sad, right? Race to the Top might just as well be called Heads Will Roll to the Bottom. It has now trickled into higher education in university systems of teacher education. “How can we prepare our teachers to teach the standards and get their students to better score on the tests which will be brought down on them like thunder???” seems to be the message one hears in the ivy-covered teacher education buildings. So “higher” education is not above the race for the cheese either. Actually, they are actively, fearfully, promoting it. Soon, we will all be aligned nicely. The government puts the screws to universities to put the screws to its teacher education students who will get jobs ahead of others because they can put the screws to the children better, and all will be happy. It is a sick system. It is a two-faced system. It says ‘This is good’ when the truth is it is toxic…and doomed to fail. The question is, ‘How many casualties must we suffer before we admit it?’

2) Another reason we do not change to a true learner-centered system: Habit. Conditioning. Call it what you will: Brain-washed? Most all those interested in ‘making education better’ sat through 12 – 18 years of education based on sit and git teaching and test results to determine who ‘got’ the most. They simply cannot see any other way. All the breaking news on how this school has done something wonderfully different or that new program is so super are justified as wonderful and super by increases in test scores! They are just painted a unique color but the vehicle is the same: HERE is the content you must learn. PUMP it into them. TEST to prove it was internalized – at least until the test was taken. Was it useful content? Was it the best content? Was it meaningful content? Who knows, who cares? We have a clear and evident indicator of “success” by this method: A SCORE! So the question is not is it useful, best, meaningful, but can it be measured by a score? We have all come to think this way. We cannot think differently very easily.

And that is why this chart, this blog, this website, this book and these ten people are speaking out. To help us consider a truly different and better and more humane way of educating our children.

Thank you for your time.

*And not counting those who have quit and the 45% of teachers who are thinking of quitting because of the pressure and stress to conform. [NEA poll: http://neatoday.org/2014/11/02/nea-survey-nearly-half-of-teachers-consider-leaving-profession-due-to-standardized-testing-2/]

**The “January Education Model” title chosen (invented) by the authors of Fixing Public Education conveys new beginnings – and it helps differentiate the specifics of learner-based education from all other models of reform. Most every reformer believes their model is “child-centered” but most are still imposing curriculum as a “for their own good” type of child-centered. One could say whipping a child is child-centered, couldn’t one?

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