Finland beyond Pisa
"The most dangerous way of thinking is the one that considers knowledge that profits the economy as the only important knowledge", says professor Michael Apple.
"Arts are fundamentally important to the society and to understanding society", says Michael Apple from Wisconsin-Madison University. Apple is a member of the coordination group of the ArtsEqual project.
Along with his academic work Apple has collaborated with different governments, teachers, trade unions and various organizations for over 30 years. He promotes democracy in education.
According to professor Apple, many politicians don’t want to know about the experiences ordinary people face. Art makes those experiences visible.
"In society, in order to understand poverty and what it means to be an immigrant it is best to get these people heard through films, popular music and art in general", says Apple.
Finland to the top of art education
Michael Apple visited Finland in November 2015. He flew to Finland from South Korea, where he was working with Korean teachers.
"I also listened as the pupils talked about their lives in profound and poetic ways. They were speaking against Pisa-scores."
Apple is not a fan of Pisa tests. He agrees with the critics who say that standardized examinations prepare children only for standardized examinations.
"We need critical, creative citizens, not just reproductive citizens."
Finland's reputation as the top country in Pisa-results is still strong in many countries although the results have dropped in recent years. Apple is fitting a larger role on Finland.
"I see Finland as a country that has made it beyond Pisa-scores. ArtsEqual-project has an important role in this,” he says. “Finland is not just a test generator. It could be the only nation to use art in broadening its citizenship."
According to Apple, in its approach to the arts Finland is trying to take into consideration all its citizens, also minorities.
“This is not happening in other countries, according to my experience, especially not in the USA. The results from ArtsEqual-research can affect the rest of the world, too."
Some cities in the USA have not hired art teachers in three or four years. Apple says that the excuse for this lays in economic problems and the rise of neoliberalism.
"For the poor and kids of color this very often means that they are not getting any art education."
Thick and thin democracy
Professor Apple uses terms "thick" and "thin democracy" while speaking about education in different countries.
In thin democracies the citizens are consumers, says Apple. Parents are considered to own their children who go to private schools if the families are wealthy enough. Children are like commodities, whose job is to pass standardized exams with good results.
In thick democracies, on the other hand, pupils are fully sovereign participants in their environment, with voice and power. Parents participate in decision making at school. The governments and the teachers can also learn from others, not just make decisions.
Apple has spent many years in Brazil where he found one of the world's thickest local democracies. The school was the center of the community. The community in Porto Alegre worked jointly with teachers and parents. The poorest inhabitants decided on the curriculum. The headmaster was elected in elections in which the pupils also had constricted quorum.
Apple himself comes from a poor family. His parents were happy when he decided that he wanted to be a teacher. As well as a sensible profession, it was much more than they had achieved themselves.
The poor people of Porto Alegre had the same attitude: they wanted something better for their children. Not just practical professions – although they were appreciated as well – but also culture and art, sophistication.
Identity by art
We need to listen to the poor and the minorities. We have to know what they dream about, says Apple.
"We need to be able to tell about our plans to ordinary people in Finland and the United States, and to use media for it. We need to be artists ourselves in order to get the message through."
Apple is a self-educated filmmaker. Or actually, the children who he has taught have educated him.
He believes that people must understand their own identity in order to live their life. And in creating one's own identity art is a necessary tool.
"It is important for poor pupils, immigrants and other people who feel that they are marginalized in the society that they are able to create themselves and recreate their world through art. It is an important process for the whole society."
The white problem
For a long time, Finland has been a white society. ArtsEqual research groups consist of white, middle-class people. How are we going to be able to advance towards more equal future?
"First, we need to understand that the problem is not black or brown – it's white,” Apple says. “This is difficult for us white people. Most of the people involved in this sort of projects tend to be progressive, and we all like to see ourselves as good people."
You have to take risks and accept critique. You have to recognize the power of the whiteness, Apple advises. No use to wallow in guilt, though. Instead, the idea of thick democracy is very useful: rather than teaching, one must learn from the non-privileged.
"Non-whites say that they cannot see themselves in the mainstream culture, and that they feel as though their body and culture has been abandoned, or that it has been seized from them, as has been the case with the ever whitening jazz."
The idea of Finnish identity is constantly changing and thus the concept of uniform culture must be defined again. Culture is not a noun, but a verb, says Apple.
Arts re-create the concept of what is ordinary and shared.
"When the world comes to Finland, what was common and shared changes. At the same time, what is Finnish must change. One has to re-learn what "we" means."