I finished reading the Kalevala on the flight home from Helsinki yesterday, and as I walked through the worlds of Väinämöinen, Lemminkäinen, and Ilmarinen, I saw how the Finnish psyche was formed through the Kalevala poetry and how that pysche has come to bear on the success of Finnish education. For instance, the paganistic explanations of how the world was made, the shamans’ respectful cooperation with nature, and the respect for women and children all contribute to a world view that is essentially egalitarian, balanced between individualist and collectivist claims (as evidenced in Finland being a welfare state) and the high premium placed on education (as evident in the reverence for the oral tradition and the old stories being performed). The Finnish legends disparages disrespect for women and children forms the basis for education through the lamentations of the bride leaving her family, the social expectations of a husband and wife toward each other, and the futility of war and abandonment of women and children, and abuse of children especially in the story of poor Kullervo. The social legacy and capital of the Kalevala cannot be underestimated. The visual reminders of the Kalevala are everywhere in Finland, ranging from the bear image on beer cans, street and place names referring to characters in the Kalevala, and even merchandise leave a trail of the Kalevala for those who are attuned to it.
The Kalevala also is a source of knowledge ranging from how to make beer, build ships, operate a sauna, navigate the water journeys between the Northland and southern Karelia (a geographical area close to the border of Russian on the eastern side of Finland), clean, cook, raise children, manage livestock and crops and warfare. In other words, research. No one is born an expert but the Kalevala expects that you can and will learn from “researching” the old ways, the traditions, the practical advice, and how things are made. Is it any wonder that Finnish education is based upon research into educational practices and policy on an international scale? Finnish teachers are expected to earn Master’s degrees and to become researchers themselves. Less is more in the way of actual student contact time and hours. Rather, Finnish teachers are given more time to collaborate, to design curriculums, to research, and to implement assessments that are authentic. Despite the high achievements of Finnish students, teachers actually spend less time teaching than their global counterparts, especially their American colleagues. Rather, time is given to these teachers to actually solve problems rather than fighting one’s way out of administrative boxes.
The Kalevala, Finnish educational practices and my doctoral studies seem to confirm what I’ve been seeking for a long time. Collaboration with colleagues, immediate educational administration support, real problem solving, research studies, curriculum development, and the professional respect accorded to teachers, artists and interpreters have all gone into Deaf Crows.
Can Deaf Crows evolve and grow? Finnish education indicates that it can. And what started out as Deaf Crows doesn’t have to look like Deaf Crows in the end. In fact, it’s starting to look more like the Finnish educational model whose underpinnings are the Kalevala. Yet, Sahlberg, the author of Finnish Lessons 2.0 says, a Finnish model of education cannot be transplanted into other cultures who are influenced by other values and traditions like the neoliberal forces that are gathering momentum in North America (good news for the one percent that control over 80 percent of the world’s resources).
After reading the Kalevala, I think I might be a good Finn.