My twitter feed is varied with every type of account from family, to Moms and Dads, to local breweries, to bird & carrot & bear parody accounts (not kidding), and a smattering of educational tweeters. My Life, represented by social media. This popped into my stream this morning and, well yes I was intrigued.

9 Reasons Finland’s Schools Are So Much Better Than America’s by Libby Nelson.

Goodness, that headline is a wonderful example of the term clickbait. However, I have a different angle/reason for clicking- I lived in Finland and went to high school there for a year as an exchange student. So many versions of this article are floating around about Finland’s educational dominance and…they’re all true. I would argue that changes toward the Finnish model can happen in North America, but we need patience. There needs to be an entire cultural shift. Putting aside the elevated professional development tools we need to equip our teachers with, the money for the increased salaries we need to pay them, the supports we need to give them in real time so they can focus on teaching and not on proving they should keep their jobs…we need our students to care about school as much as Finnish kids care about school. Meaning, our children need it modelled to them that an education is an incredible privilege, and they need to value the marks they earn…and only receive the mark they actually earn.

_38122957_sweden_finland_map300I lived in Tornio, Finland between 1999 and 2000. My friends were 16 and 17 years old. I’m not gonna lie, I took a year off school. I was required to go to class, but I was not graded. (They taught in Finnish. Except in English class, which I sometimes taught. Which was so fun at 16!) I had nothing to lose and nothing to gain, so I just hung out for free hot lunch every day and the chance to socialize. After school, I spent countless hours lounging on the beds of my girlfriends reading or watching Friends episodes from two years back with my headphones on…while they studied. They took their school work so seriously. I decry the claim in this otherwise well-written article that 15 yr olds do less than 30 minutes of homework a night. Please. Perhaps they are assigned less than 30 minutes…the idea is they choose to do more. At least my friends all did.

University is free. But it is so damn hard to get in. And you aren’t let in just because your high school transcript looks impeccable, you have to prove you earned those marks and can keep up in University. You have to write essays and specific testing to be extended an offer of acceptance. This reality was never far from the minds of my friends. So few of them had jobs, because they were too busy with school. By choice. Their marks were fantastic, they were dedicated and brilliant and respected. My second host mom was the principal, headmistress actually, at the high school. I never once got the impression that she was superior to her teachers.

Going back even younger, I lived with two 7yr old twins for 7 months in my first host family. I never saw them do a stitch of homework, they played and played and played. But smart? Wow. My little host sister learned to tell me the time in English, even though she hadn’t learned any English in school yet. Learning was a tool for them, not a burden forced on them. They looked for lessons even on road trips we took. I taught English at a polytechnical school for a few months. (I know, right?! Sometimes even I forget all the life lessons I gleaned in that tiny spot of a year.) It was basically the equivalent to our colleges here, the students got a lot of hands-on training and developed so many skills in a short amount of time. And they started at 17. By choice. Not because their marks weren’t good enough to get them into a University. It was a marked difference from the way I’d grown up looking at the College vs University divide here in Canada.

All of this to say: it’s much different in Finland than it is here. It’s not just good educational policy that determines their success. It’s good educational policy which accurately reflects cultural influences. The students I was friends with never complained about school…they’d lament a teacher being too strict, they’d get stressed about a lesson they didn’t understand or couldn’t quite get, but they never skipped a class, I can’t remember anyone being late, and so very rarely was their anyone misbehaving in class, I gathered the tolerance level for it was below zero. Much like the temperature every day for 5 straight months.

Haparanda i Tornio

Overall, I would define the Finnish school system in one word: respected. And I mean that from every and all angles. The teachers are respected, the administration is respected, the students are respected, and the parents are respected. Everyone is regarded as being an integral part of the system. You are not granted a diploma as the child of a tax paying citizen. You earn an education through highly skilled professionals and a lot of personal hard work. And rarely are there any complaints. Which is pretty Finnish, I’ll concede. I am so proud to be able to say I lived there. It’s as wonderful as they say it is. (I mean, the winters are horrific, but no one claims they’re not, so it does what it says on the box.) So for us to climb the ranks up to the Finnish school model? I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to where that starts: whether it’s a top down push from government officials and a massive overhaul of educational policy (so so pricey, the effects of which wouldn’t be truly felt for likely a decade or more, but necessary). Or maybe we start with our students, modelling the behaviour that school isn’t a right just because I pay taxes and live in a developed country. That it’s an incredible tool gifted to them that they can and must use to become something fulfilling in their own way. You are not a special snowflake, but you can become one all on your own if you study and earn it from educators you respect. Wait…back it up. All that starts with parents.

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I heard a radio ad this morning that really ticked me off. Like, I full-voice screamed in my car it pissed me off so much.

“Guys, when your girl tells you she doesn’t want anything for Valentine’s Day? What she really means is get her something for Valentine’s Day.”

 Sweet hell, the layers of wrong here are bountiful. Let me begin with this: I’m not entirely sure who’s gaslighting who here, but this mind game nonsense is infuriating.

nottonightLadies: if you want a gift, ask for it. If you can’t ask for it, you’re not going to get it, and you can’t really be angry about that. He’s not a mind reader, and nothing he can dream up to purchase and/or craft for you with his bare hands is going to fill the void of whatever it is you’re trying to cover up with junk. Get to therapy. Speak up for yourselves and say what you want. Exactly what you want. If you want a necklace, ask for a necklace. If you’d like to go to dinner? Say so, and help yourself by making some suggestions on places you’d like to eat. Or better yet, ask him if he’s made plans, and if he hasn’t, you make them. If you want nothing, say so. If he gets you something anyway, thank him for his generosity and let him know that you meant what you said, and next year there’s no need. Do this sincerely and firmly, without resentment or judgement. Or if it’s important to him to get you something, make a plan that leaves both of you satisfied and neither of you resentful. Then go to therapy.

Gentlemen: if we say we want nothing, get us nothing. If she gives you that look later like she’s sad, remind her gently but firmly that you don’t want to disrespect her requests, so please can she just be honest if she really does want something. Then get a therapist. If you get her something anyway, and she sighs deeply or looks kind of annoyed: listen to her next time she says she doesn’t want anything. And if you’re curious: ASK HER. Respectfully ask if there’s something specific she wants, or does she want to do something. Hell, maybe you’d like something, maybe there’s a place you’d like to go for dinner- offer that up! If you don’t want to go anywhere and she does, compromise. Go for drinks and apps, see if you can pick up a meal from her requested place and bring it home where you can eat it in your pjs in front of the latest episode of Law & Order or some shit. Don’t ignore her or assume anything about her, don’t ignore yourself or do something just to make her happy. Then go to therapy.

I don’t know where this whole thing started, but Valentine’s Day really grinds my gears above all else. I want it to die in a fire. Not because I hate love, but because I hate the fake, rushed display of outpouring, the clearly uncomfortable second-guessing of am-I-doing-enough? which is actually thinly veiled am-I-enough? and it’s excruciating to watch and even more painful to sit in.

Stop. Calm down.

If you two are fully and mutually and genuinely into Valentine’s Day- live that shit up! Buy that big ol teddy bear and fill the house with rose petals or fairy lights or candles (but probably not all, cause that sounds like a helluva fire hazard…) and be there for each other in the way that it all makes sense to you. No more and no less. And if it is less that you want? Be brave enough to say so and not question if you’re broken cause you can’t stand that stuff. (I learned that from therapy.)

My request for Valentine’s Day? Nothing. But if you must: a (carton of…) Cadbury Crème eggs and please go away while I eat them because they are delicious but I eat them in a very unflattering way and let’s maintain a least a teensy bit of mystery here about my femininity ok?!

And therapy. Go get you some therapy. It will feel terrifying  and embarrassing and awkward and then amazing and freeing and calming. Start being honest and it will all feel more genuine. And buy those roses the day after Valentine’s Day cause they are on sale and everyone loves to save money.

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Experience vs Expertise. Chatting with Ladies.

by Alicia on January 16, 2015

“You know, if you get married, you don’t have to change your last name. Did you know you can keep your name the same as it is now?” This sentence came up over breakfast one morning. The ladies were intrigued. So I was too. “Or, if you want, you can hyphenate and add a new name onto your old one, or you can even legally come up with a new name altogether! You have so many options, and you should always do what you think is best…even if other people don’t think the same. You don’t even have to get married at all!”

Yes I know the concept of marriage is still a fairy tale princess story to my 9, 7, and 4 year old daughters. But one day it won’t be. One day they’ll be seriously considering the possibility, and hopefully they’ll recall that “my mom has been talking to us about this for years” and maybe they’ll think I can handle their questions or that I’m not shy or judgemental or forceful about my own experiences. I count on this model for a lot of my parenting young girls.

Set up the foundation of trust and openness and real dialogue now, things are only going to get more complicated from here.

They’ll have friends, they’ll have celebrities, they’ll have teachers and babysitters, and and and…right now they count on their dad and myself for the right answer to every question, even when they protest said answer. I wonder if one day I’ll notice suddenly that my ultimate authority has lost its edge, or if I’ll watch it slowly slip away  and attempt to grab it back like a failed game of tug of war. And the truth is? The truth is that I know nothing. I don’t know how they will look at the world, how their relationships will feel to them. How each small and big thing they go through will change them. Which seemingly insignificant things will stay with them, and how the background information I don’t ever get to know will shape their thoughts. I don’t know their life. I know my own experiences and failures and how they affected me right at the time that I went through them. In retrospect, I might have changed a few things, but I think those things are oddly specific to the time of my life and the person I was then. I can only speak of experience, not expertise. There’s a bit of danger in that, of exposing my flaws to my daughters. I’m asking them to trust me while telling them I had have trouble trusting myself sometimes.

But there’s less danger in truth and vulnerability than there ever is in making something up to save face. In all of their decisions, I want them to be authentic. I want them to act fearlessly, even if there’s a little bit of fear in the way back there. I want them to listen to themselves, seek new experiences and fail. I want them to fail so hard and break so many things so they can learn the hard work it takes to put it all back together, and the sense of calm pride you feel looking at your pieced-together life. I want them to be independent and accept help when they decide they need it. I want them to say “no” when every single molecule in their body is screaming at them to say no, even while they watch all their friends nod yes in unison.

I don’t know how to do that. I’m only stumbling along here, talking about my dreams for them and hoping I’ll rise to the challenge.

Higgy Ladies, Christmas Eve 2014

(PS- My Ladies? If you’re reading this before we’ve talked? I’m totally smart, ok. I’ve got this figured out and none of this “I’m confused” stuff is true……..except that it is. So we’ll work this out together.)

 

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Words and a Door.

December 23, 2014

Yesterday, I had the most intensely real moment of my adult life. I say that with no exaggeration. I put up these quotes every week on my office door. I just find something that speaks to me, I print it, and I tape it on my door. I’ve been doing it for over a year. Sometimes […]

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It’s ok to not know.

December 15, 2014

Each trip I make out to my hometown, I detour to a stop at a graveyard and that’s really shitty. But you know what? It doesn’t actually feel always shitty. I hate that I have to go there, but I like to have that place to go. I hate what the place as a whole represents, but […]

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