Reframing How We View Education

I’ve posted in the past about how we in America value education (or don’t, as the case more often is). I’m still concerned about this issue – not least because, having obtained a Ph.D., I’m likely going to spend at least some of my life working in the field of education. I also think of the recent image making its way around Facebook, with an American taxpayer explaining that he doesn’t mind his tax money going to education because he doesn’t want to live in a nation of idiots. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: as a supposedly democratic society, we are shooting ourselves in the collective feet if we don’t have a well-educated populace with critical thinking skills and a knowledge of history and the humanities as well as technical, informational skill sets like those offered by STEM.

Recently, a fellow blogger reached out to me about a graphic she helped create, which illustrates how the education system in Finland frames its approach differently:

Please Include Attribution to With This Graphic Finnish Education Infographic

Since I’m into data visualization and other strategies brought to the forefront by the digital humanities movement, I thought I’d share this graphic with my readers. It dramatically illustrates what we’re doing differently in the U.S., and suggests that some of our specific behaviors (devaluing teachers and “play” time, overemphasizing standardized testing) are not working and need to be addressed.

For a striking contrast, check out this public radio discussion of higher education in California (thanks to my dad, who sent me the link). The experiences and needs of the students and teachers took a backseat to discussions of tuition and technology – which are certainly important, but I fear that continuing to commodify education will have negative effects for both teachers and students.

At this point, as a recent Ph.D. still finding my way in the world, I feel a bit powerless to make sure that positive changes are happening in our education system. At the very least, though I can blog about these issues and hope to inspire the sorts of discussions and reevaluations that might eventually lead to change.


  1. Jackie’s avatar

    Thank you, Jeana! Great questions you’ve raised here, and certainly a striking infographic.

  2. jeana’s avatar

    Thanks, Jackie! One of the authors of the graphic found my blog and sent it to me since I seem interested in such things (which I certainly am), so that’s how I ended up with it.

  3. Lydia’s avatar

    (Thom sent me the link, thus the creeper-ness)

    I absolutely agree with everything. I think there may be intervening variables with some of the statistics from Finland, like the fact that subsidized education extends to university. Might explain why 2 out of 3 students go to college.

    That being said, I think the value placed on teachers is striking. Only 10% of graduates are accepted into teaching programs? I assume this means college graduates being accepted in Master’s programs. That number is staggering.

    I’d be curious to hear hypotheses/research as to why American culture doesn’t value teachers the way European culture does.

  4. jeana’s avatar

    Thanks for weighing in, Lydia. I agree that there are likely social and economic differences that account for some of the discrepancies… but precisely what the differing cultural values are behind them, well, I don’t know yet. I suspect the reason for Finland’s prominence as a center for folklore research may be related: Finland has been overrun by invaders enough times that its people clung to their oral traditions as an essential part of their identity and heritage (this is true of other nations that have been colonized, like Ireland and Estonia, both also leaders in the folklore world). Perhaps some need to understand their historical circumstances, or a sense that they’re not military powers so they might as well be intellectual powers, may be related underlying impulses? I’m just spinning stories here… I, too, would love to see some qualitative research to back this up!


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