February 18th, 2016
I recently saw the new Michael Moore film “Where to Invade Next,” http://wheretoinvadenext.com and I can only say that here in the U.S. we have a lot to learn from our friends in Europe and even in North Africa. Moore takes us on a journey to Italy, Finland, France, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Iceland, and Tunisia and highlights one aspect of their civil society and its myriad of benefits. His mission in the film is to “invade” these countries not for their natural resources or to overthrow governments to spread democracy but to bring home to the U.S. one positive attribute. In all his encounters, those he interviewed, regardless of country, reminded him that they used the U.S. (e.g. our Constitution, Civil Rights Movement, etc.) as their model to emulate and perfect.
Since this is an education blog, I’m going to focus on those countries Moore visited to highlight the great strides they’ve made in cultivating their education system from curriculum, teaching methodology, assessments, to school meals.
Moore visited Finland where the country decided to overhaul its entire pre-K through high school public education after rating low on world education rankings in the mid 1990’s. Since then they have done away with testing, or standardized testing as we are so familiar with here in the U.S., scrapped homework and reduced classroom hours. Children get more time to socialize and play at home and with friends. Public schools throughout Finland receive equal funding and enjoy the same resources so children of different neighborhoods benefit from the same quality education and socialize and integrate with each other despite their socioeconomic backgrounds. It was also interesting to see that when Finns get their paychecks they receive a detailed breakdown of exactly where their taxes are going. Would we react differently if we saw that 56% of our taxes are directed toward military and defense instead of education and other social services?
Moore’s takeaway from Finland: Do away with the standardized tests and reduce homework and make teaching fun and engaging. And, include a detailed breakdown of exactly what percentage of taxes support which government programs!
The next country on Moore’s itinerary was France where he visited school lunchrooms to witness at firsthand what French children eat. What he found was astounding. School chefs meeting with Ministry of Education-approved nutritionists to plan the monthly menus, refrigerators stocked with fresh produce, including varieties of cheeses and sit down lunches where children were served four course meals. You may be thinking that he had visited a private school. No, these were public schools, some in poorer neighborhoods and some in more affluent, but the one thing they had in common was healthy food, prepared with great attention to the ingredients to ensure the children received a balanced nutritious meal. Lunch was served on china, where children sat at dining tables covered with table cloth and were served by a member of the kitchen staff. They were not lining up cafeteria style with trays in hand and having mystery meat plopped on plastic plates. Children even helped serve each other and ate their meals using proper silverware: knives and forks. The point was not only healthy eating, but learning table etiquette and the ability to sit alongside fellow classmates and sharing a meal. In fact, these children were sharing their desserts and having conversations! And the beverage served? Water! Yes, water. No sugary sodas or artificially sweetened drinks. Plain, delicious, water. By the way, he also demonstrated how the cost to have healthy freshly prepared meals on site for the children at schools in fact cost far less than the mass produced nutritious deprived lunches at our school cafeterias. Moore also sat in a sex education class and when he asked the teacher and the students if there were also taught abstinence as is the case in U.S. schools, they looked at him in bewilderment. The teacher said studies show that including sex ed. classes in schools reduce teen pregnancies.
Moore’s takeaway from France: Incorporate a menu of healthy nutritious meals at our public schools using the French system as a model, though minus the scallops and coq au vin. And, worth returning sex ed. classes in our school curriculum that provide students honest and uncensored information.
Next was Slovenia where Moore interviewed students attending the University of Ljubljana where both domestic and international students benefit from free education. He spoke with two American students who had chosen to study there since they couldn’t afford the high cost of U.S. higher education. One student even said that she felt Slovenia’s higher education was by far more superior compared to U.S. undergraduate studies which she thought was more on a par to the country’s high schools. When Slovenia’s government had considered charging tuition, Slovenian students protested against it and they were so effective that they succeeded in having the political party in charge step down. When tuition goes up in the U.S. we seldom see students protesting and demanding any change.
Moore’s takeaway from Slovenia: Free higher education means access to a larger population of students and a graduating class unburdened by student loans and debt.
In Germany, besides meeting with worker’s unions where it is a law that workers have representation on the Boards of companies and any worker suffering from stress with a doctor’s note receives a two-week company-paid stay at a spa to rest and recuperate, Moore also visited a public school. He sat in on a class where the students were taught about the atrocities committed by Germany during WWII under Hitler’s leadership. The students weren’t taught a simplistic view of what happened. There were no revisionist interpretations of history, no excuses or admonitions that since they weren’t alive then they are not required to assume responsibility. He also showed how Germany is acknowledging its past by commemorating those who were taken from their homes and sent to concentration camps with gold plaques bearing their names and signs throughout streets in towns and cities in the country. It was a stunning look at how Germany is not trying to forget or ignore its past actions.
Moore’s takeaway from Germany: One lesson Moore wishes the U.S. to adopt is a full recognition of its treatment of the indigenous Native Americans and its use of African slaves in building its infrastructure. If our children are taught the facts without any censorship or sanitizing, then there most likely will be a deeper understanding of our country’s history and a greater sense of accountability. Another takeaway is protecting our unions and giving the workers a seat on the Boards of U.S. companies. A 2-week paid spa retreat isn’t a bad idea either!
Although Moore’s focus on visiting Tunisia was not related to its education system, I still think it’s worth sharing since it has much to do with the topic of women’s equal rights in a country that in 2011 experienced a revolution in what we’ve got to know as the start of the Arab Spring, Tunisia has been able to bring about sweeping changes that have elevated the role of women in society by including in its constitution a bill of rights for women. In Tunisia women have full rights concerning their reproductive systems, can run for political office can serve in parliament, and share the same rights and privileges as men. A Tunisian female journalist had a few poignant words of advice for Moore and I’m paraphrasing: America is very lucky to be a strong country but it is very ignorant of others in the world, while other people of the world know about America, its politics, its music, literature, art, film, fashion, and even speak its language, Americans don’t know and don’t seem to want or care about the rest of the world. Tunisia, she said, is small, but it too has a rich history. She reminded us that it was the U.S. that invented the best technology ever: the Internet. She asked that we use this valuable resource, research, read, and learn about the rest of the world and stop watching mindless shows like the Kardashians.
Moore’s takeaway from Tunisia: Be curious and look outside and beyond our four walls.
The sign of an evolving and advanced society is not pulling down the shutters and closing our eyes, minds and hearts to the outside world. It’s also not looking at everyone that talks or dresses funny, practices a different religion, or eats food that look strange to us, as a threat and with fear but to be curious, ask questions, research, engage, have conversations, learn another language, experiment with food and listen to music and news from other parts of the world, watch their films and TV shows and see for our self that we are not all that different.
My takeaway from this film besides all those shared by Moore, was that everyone he met, from young children in schools in Finland, to the women in Tunisia, spoke English. Many spoke three or four languages fluently. Language, my friends, and knowledge of more than our own, is how we can connect and stay connected with our neighbors, community, and the world. We need to make the learning of a foreign language a core component of our school curriculum, consider incorporating study abroad as a required component in our undergraduate programs, and encourage students to travel and/or join the Peace Corps on graduation. These are just a few examples of how we can inspire our young to become exemplary citizens of the U.S. and the ambassadors to the world.
The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.