the american creed + education equity

may, 2022

The United States has always been admired on the global stage for its values and vision for a strong, independent country. The American Creed embodies the hopes and dreams of America– liberty, individualism, equality, and laissez-faire, to name a few. Because of how attainable and ideal these ideologies seem, many countries have actively sought to adopt practices that would embody the American creed. Especially in education, countries such as Finland have taken active steps to ensure that both the process and outcome of education within the country will lead to the defining values of American identity. Finland’s approach to successfully doing this is rooted in its ideology: The Nordic Theory of Love (Partanen 116). This theory ensures citizens’ autonomy, independence, and success through smart government, equitable policies, and universal access to core resources needed to live in the modern age.

Metrics used in Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have assessed that Finland has consistently ranked among the highest in the world for highest-achieving students in K-12 education (Partanen), while the United States has consistently lagged behind. Seeing as this is, it is natural to question how a country like Finland can deliver a truer expression of the American Creed to its people than the United States, especially when it comes to education. Ultimately, the United States focuses its education policies and system on competition, which prevents unequal opportunities for success. In contrast, Finland focuses its education policies on equity and addresses educational inequality’s root causes in its policies. This allows Finland to foster a country of well-educated, independent people while America’s inequality gap continues to grow and we stray further from the vision of the American Creed.

The case of education in Finland is peculiar when looking at it from a comparative perspective to the United States. With the Nordic Theory of Love serving as a central vision for Finnish policymakers, education is seen as a clear and inherent right for all citizens. Because of this, the foundation of education policy in Finland is rooted in equity (Partanen 120). Finnish journalist Anu Partanen discusses the importance of having a lens of equity in education for a prosperous country in her book The Nordic Theory of Everything. Regardless of family background or socioeconomic status, Finnish students have the opportunity to receive a strong foundation of education. K-12 education in Finland is subsidized and government-backed completely, providing universally good quality education for all children (Partanen 163). By removing many entry barriers that may exist between costs and education, we can see an active practice of the Nordic Theory of Love. Parents don’t have pressure to plan their future around their children’s success or access to education, and inversely children don’t have to suffer the brunt of a parent’s socioeconomic status.

Finland’s achievement of the American Creed and the values it stands for is seen in the benefits the country reaps as a result of providing this universal access to education to all Finnish citizens. Considering education as an investment, Finland is able to ultimately foster all citizens as useful human capital in a thriving economy and country. Additionally, this technique creates a strong nation that continues providing benefits back to the economy and within Finnish society while remaining competitive globally (Partanen 116). Finnish education policy reveals benefits that extend far beyond the importance of receiving an education. Centering equality as the forefront priority while developing and implementing these programs allows not just all citizens to thrive individually but nationally. This in itself is what the American Creed is about– individual autonomy and a government that will be laissez-faire in its policies in the long term.

However, in the United States, a completely different approach and vision of education exist, straying away from the American Creed. American policymakers do recognize the value and importance of education. However, their efforts to aid challenges within the system do not utilize equity, nor do they address the most significant barrier to good quality education: cost. Instead, in the supposed spirit of laissez-faire and competitiveness, education policy in America aims to use equality of opportunity as the predominant strategy in addressing these barriers. The “equality of opportunity” allows for surface-level solutions such as competitive scholarship programs, privatization of tutoring/educational services, and the necessity for parents to be needlessly involved in a child’s educational journey without guaranteeing good quality access to education to all American people. The lack of an equitable lens when approaching education in the United States ensures that a family’s socioeconomic status predetermines the fate that a child’s education has. Without the guarantee of an individual’s educational success, their human capital in American society lessens, ultimately leading to long-term drawbacks and challenges for the country.

It is important to note that there are stark differences in comparative metrics between K-12 education and college education. The case of the United States is compelling because of how difficult it is to implement universal access to college education within the country. In Finland, the assortment of private and community colleges is nonexistent because their system is almost entirely government-regulated, emphasizing equity and similar quality of education for all (Partanen 117). However, in the United States, federal and state-level blocks have prevented even community colleges from becoming free for all students. The Washington Post Article “Biden’s plans to expand free education may be new for America. But they’re the norm in other countries.” discusses this dilemma. Biden’s proposal for making community college more accessible would still fail to cover more than two years of attendance and would not even begin to address four-year universities. Completing two years of community college accessible to students would be a huge step in equity for students; however, Biden lacked large amounts of support in getting it passed even though this policy still falls far behind other countries such as Finland in its vision of education for all. Some U.S. states have been successful in creating free education, however. New Mexico has taken steps to provide free higher education for in-state public high education institutions (Romero 1). This bipartisan supported initiative signals the values that Republican and Democratic legislators find in this service and the importance of equity. Although New Mexico has successfully implemented this Finnish-style model within the state, there are still clear hesitations and no guarantee that this program can continue. Legislators concurrently complement and see promise in this funding yet still find hesitations in the sustainability of its benefits (Romero 2). The success of programs such as the one implemented in New Mexico can only see the fruits of their labor if either their investments, students who utilize these programs, stay within the state or if free higher education is universally implemented all over the country.

Because of the way the American education system stands, the values American Creed are impossible to achieve in this capacity. Students are dependent on the socioeconomic status of their parents as well as the access they have to specific resources that let them get ahead in their education (Partanen 155). Students either get far ahead or far behind by making these resources competitive and inaccessible. This disparity long-term doesn’t ensure a thriving economy or America’s human capital. If the United States were to remove the barrier of cost and provide subsidized education for all Americans, individuals would be able to practice independence and autonomy in their decisions, which ultimately strengthens a nation’s economy and society as a whole.

Ultimately, equity needs to become a central focus in American education policy to ensure the values embodied by the American creed are true in practice when it comes to education. While competition is something that both people in Finland and America value because Finland views education as a right, they omit any competition in accessing educational services to guarantee a country ready to compete on the global stage. At the same time, America makes competition a part of this fundamental right. The Nordic Theory of Love emphasizes equity as a critical factor in ensuring independence, autonomy, and a better society. It is the step that America needs to properly foster the values of the American creed that serve as an inspiration for countries worldwide. If the United States provides free, quality K-12 and higher education for all, it would allow every individual a truly equal opportunity to thrive and be an asset to American society. The American Creed could only be achieved if everyone can start at the same level and with the same resources. The competitiveness that Americans love so much will follow naturally. Maybe it is time to utilize the Nordic Theory of Love in American Education reform to ultimately allow us to live up to our ideals of the American Creed.

Works Cited:

Partanen, Anu. Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life. HarperCollins, 2016

Romero, Simon. “What If College Were Free? This State Is Trying To Find Out.”. Nytimes.Com, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/31/us/new-mexico-free-college.html.

Taylor, Adam, and Miriam Berger. “Biden’S Plans To Expand Free Education May Be New For America. But In Other Countries, They’Re The Norm.”. The Washington Post, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/04/29/biden-education-childcare-global/.

written for pple-358 (american exceptionalism) final essay

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