“If you want to learn how to learn, ask us, ask Finland”

During the last few years has the Finnish educational system been object to a wide international interest thanks to PISA success in Finland. A lot of interviews and several documents have been made to the international media about this subject. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, educational experts have visited the local Finnish schools to observe how do we actually teach and study here. Finland has also started to actively market and spread our educational system (the educational “miracle”) outside the Finnish borders.

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moCq70Oo6gY

(Video by Finpro Finland: Finnish Exellence in Education)

In this particular video is featured how one of the Finnish achievements is above all others: “the world class education”, which according to the texts of the video means at least high quality education, the professional freedom of the teachers, equal possibilities of studying, and technology and digitalisation of education. While watching the video one can’t help but wonder if it also means being blue eyed and blonde by hair?

At the moment Finnish educational export focuses for example on consulting educational systems, developing curriculas, pedagogic education of the teachers, developing the leading skills of the headmasters, the assessment of the developing of the education, preschooling and -teaching, the special needs -education, technology and the digitalisation of the education and also the vocational education. Despite all of this there has been a worry in the Finnish ministry of the education that Finland has not managed to grow the educational export a big and financially significant business. The clear goal in Finland is at the moment to expand and widen the educational export even more.

The biggest problems in different strategies seem to be the Finnish legislation and the barriers it causes. There are also lacks in the Finnish knowledge of business management. In different strategies local needs and the meaning of working together are left in a minimal position. It can simply be said in passing that in some countries it is not possible to carry out educational export without a functioning cooperation structure with the local people.

In general many critical issues and challenges of education export are not addressed in any way in the strategy documents. Such issues could be for example these phenomena that Andreotti (2011, 191-192) has discussed in his article: North-South  power  relations,  Western  supremacy, epistemic  privilege  and  violence,  ideas about the origins and justifications of unequal distributions of resources and labor, ethnocentric benevolence/charity, and issues of language, difference, and participation. An important Finnish education export agent, Future Learning Finland, has stated the Persian Gulf area as their main marketing area, especially targeting Saudi-Arabia and also Russia and China. In the future the plan is to expand the marketing towards Southeast Asia. What is prominent in the documents is that enhancing the export is solely based on looking for wide, financially solvent and profitable markets, and not so much on the need of new educational services in these areas.

Of course education export is being done between the “Western” countries as well. For example the concept of Yrityskylä, Me and My City (https://yrityskyla.fi/en/) is being “exported” From Finland over the seas – to Sweden. Yrityskylä is a governmentally funded and functioning institution, and already 70 % of six graders in Finland have participated in the program. It includes about 10 hours of teaching first in school and then the implementation day at the simulation city. The whole idea of exporting becomes interesting in the point where the country that is exporting isn’t actually making any money directly out of the process (governmentally funded). Who benefits and what? It can’t be called colonization, but is it still Western universal knowledge making in this context without the “non-Western” counterpart?

Considering what was discussed at the latest lecture the whole idea of educational export can be questioned. The last sentence of the video  “If you want to learn how to learn, ask us, ask Finland” is a perfect example of Western universal knowledge making. In the context of the postcolonial theories that were discussed in the lecture some parts of this Finpro video and the educational export documents seem almost embarrassing – who is this country to tell everyone what to do? At the lecture we also wondered what could be done towards decolonizing education. Suggested methods were for example empowering the victims of colonialism, place-based education and localising the curricula. Ironically, the best educational export “products” are probably the ones that can be adapted to many kinds of contexts and that utilize ideas of for example place-based education.

– Group A: Aino, Mari & Emilia

[1] Koulutusviennin tiekartta 2016–2019. Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön julkaisuja 2016:9.

[2] Suomi kansainvälisille koulutusmarkkinoille. Selvitysryhmän muistio. Toimenpideohjelma koulutusviennin edellytysten parantamiseksi. Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön työryhmämuistioita ja selvityksiä 2013:9

Postcolonialism in Education

Postcolonialism can be conceptualized as criticism towards “Western universal knowledge-making” (Lecture slide 20.2.2017). Postcolonial theory also has different strands and one of them is informed by post-structuralism. “This strand recognizes the instability of signification, the location of the subject in language or discourse, and the dynamic operations of power associated with knowledge production.” (Andreotti, 2011, 18.) From this perspective we can examine, for example textbooks, and has there been different significations on different events depending on a culture or a country or a school. What kind of “master” narrative, or narratives, we can find which in turn can shape our knowledge and view of the world to a specific kind of knowledge. This in turn can influence how we view and even control the world (Andreotti, 2011, 20). And if these knowledges and textbook texts are constructed in a way where they serve a master narrative, we can argue that they can be changed. They can be written again in a sense that they serve better equality goals. This links to post-structuralisms recognition of operations of power associated with knowledge production. Who has the power to write textbooks and who has the power to say what is knowledge? This is why we should examine critically different kinds of text, especially school book texts, where the knowledge can be colored by different political aims. This is where the third recognition of location of the subject in language or discourse is important. From a view, where language is seen as an action, a discourse, we can examine how textbooks, knowledge, courses etc. place a subject in it and shapes our view of the world, our actions and maybe even our attitudes. And how the ‘others’ and ‘we’ are constructed, seen, shaped. For example, on the lecture we discussed about how traumatic experience it can be for the children if they’ve grown in a different knowledge system and then must adapt a whole new knowledge system in school. It must be shocking when everything they’ve learned before is useless. In the school they will be informed that their old knowledge system, their families’ knowledge with long traditions, is less true than western universal knowledge system. Therefore they are told that their knowledge and wisdom is less valuable. All in all discourses, master narratives from textbooks can influence our thinking and shape it through political agenda and power where people are seen less equal and thus justify inequality in a way, where some are seen superior and some are not.

There was a talk about the cultural colonization in education. How western knowledge is portrayed as universal knowledge and violence committed by colonialists is explained and justified. Thinking about epistemologies that schools portray as valuable or the knowledge that is relevant, the aim of the curriculum of basic education (Opetushallitus, 2016) is a broad-based learning where knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and the will to form a whole. Thinking and learning skills create a basis for the development of other skills and lifelong learning. Students are directed to consider things from different perspectives, to think critically and to built new knowledge and insight. It is also important to identify and appreciate cultural meanings of the environment, the review of ones own background as well as the reflection on the issues that cannot be accepted because of the contrary to human rights. Multi-literacy skills mean to acquire, merge, edit, produce, present and evaluate information in different forms and in different environments and also to support the development of critical thinking skills. Teaching critical thinking can built a criticism towards western universal knowledge-making and in that sense the aim of the curriculum is supporting the postcolonialism in education.

//Group H


Andreotti, V. (2011, available as an e-book). Actionable postcolonial theory in education. Chapter One (13-24): Contextualizing Postcolonialisms and Postcolonial Theories

Opetushallitus. (2016). Perusopetuksen opetussuunnitelman perusteet 2014.

If it isn’t white, it isn’t right? #WhiteCurriculum

Our group approached the subject of postcolonialism in education from the viewpoint of university studies. We found a post by Minna Seikkula in the Raster-blog on racism and borders written by antiracist researchers titled “#WhiteCurriculum – opiskelijaliike eurosentrismiä vastaan [student movement against eurocentrism]”. The movement referenced in the post originated in the UK as a statement about the one sided curriculum content, execution and setting in the universities that privilege western knowledge, white minds and bodies. It challenges Eurocentric teaching and textbooks. In the following video produced at the University College London (UCL) some students and faculty members talk about the white curriculum:

As Mariya Hussain (2015) points out, “the education we receive at many universities is one that has been largely shaped by colonialism. It places white, Eurocentric writers and thinkers above others without much concern. This leads to a blindness to other perspectives, and a complete dismissal of the large amounts of thought provoking work produced throughout history by non-white thinkers and scholars.”

Some might ask, how does all of this relate to Finland which has a distinctly different history from the UK and has never been a coloniser? A few points arise in response to this, the first being the situation of the Sami people and the history of taking lands from these indigenous inhabitants and denying the right for self-determination. This can be discussed in terms of colonialism, as has been done in a recent article “Sata kolonialismin vuotta [One hundred years of colonialism]” prompted by the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence. Another important point, which is not exclusive to Finland, are the global economic processes and related systems of oppression that are linked to the history of colonial exploitation. Our lecturer Pia Mikander gave us an everyday example of a cheap T-shirt: when you buy a piece of clothing for 5 euros, someone else is paying more for it with their labour.

A practical way of shifting people’s focus to the relationship between capitalism and colonialism is to teach them concrete examples, as above, of how these are interrelated. This approach can be an easier way to get a grasp of colonialism compared to the historical view just because it deals with the material “reality” of the everyday lives of the majority student. However, the historical aspect cannot be ignored since today has its’ roots in the past.

Some things in the curriculum are often taken for granted. You might easily think that white authors are the best just because that’s what you’ve always been taught. But maybe it’s not the fact that they are the best but rather it is a matter of choice to teach only the texts of (dead) white male writers. When was the last time you pondered the limitations of the university’s curriculum? What would be some concrete ways to detach from white curriculum thinking?

The first step, one that we have taken (thanks to this course), is to acknowledge that our curriculum is mostly white. Whiteness often appears as neutral, the norm, something that doesn’t have to be pointed out, hardly even thought of. It is easy to fall into the mundane sense of “neutral” whiteness or better yet the invisibility of whiteness since white Finns do dominate the universities of Finland. In this critique of White curriculum, whiteness is not challenged as an individual characteristic (such as skin color) but as an ideology that bestows privileges and power to those perceived as white (‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ collective, UCL 2015).

A part of the problem is the illusion of universality, the assumption of western=better/more evolved, and everything else is almost automatically seen as secondary, subpar. To question this, to interrogate the history and the social and political construction of this hierarchy and power relation can help us see problems and a need for change where we used to see nothing special.

Whiteness and ethnocentric monoculturalism are powerful and entrenched determinants of worldview. Because they are invisible and operate outside the level of conscious awareness, they can be detrimental to people of color, women, and other marginalized groups in society. (Sue, D. W., 2004, 761–762.)

The change of perspectives might require a change in our ways of learning as well. The OSDE methodology (Open Spaces for Dialogue and Enquiry) initiative for teaching could provide a fruitful platform for complex discussion on a multiplicity of perspectives. The methodology has been developed to give concrete guidelines on how to create an open/safe space, where individuals can, among other things, discuss and examine western knowledge production. According to the OSDE an open space can help individuals understand and analyse their own way of thinking, i.e. the lenses through which they are looking at the world. Getting acquainted with the lenses of others can also give the opportunity to imagine other ways of thinking, living and being together and therefore open up an ethical dialogue between different perspectives. (Andreotti 2011.)

We were particularly intrigued by the idea of dissensus. Participants in a OSDE open space are not encouraged to reach a consensus, instead they are asked to commit to dissensus to enquire their own and other’s viewpoints. A consensus might be needed when making decisions that affect everyone involved, but when it comes to learning, it can be important for different perspectives to have the opportunity to coexist. In OSDE these opinions and points of view are interrogated individually and together as historically and culturally constructed, situated and partial – not final or personal. (Andreotti 2011, 191–215.) OSDE proposes some basic principles for the open space:

  1. Every individual brings to the space valid and legitimate knowledge constructed in their own contexts.
  2. All knowledge is partial and incomplete.
  3. All knowledge can be questioned. (Ibid., 197–198.)

Within the OSDE initiative, independent thinking is dissociated from the autonomous Cartesian thinker and linked to the self-reflexive stance: the ability to trace the collective origins and implications of one’s own thinking through the awareness that one’s subjectivity is constantly constructed within one’s social, cultural and historical contexts (Andreotti 2011, 194).

The domination of white curriculum also refers to language, gender and culture. In the academic sphere English is the universal language and we read papers written in English, partly because Anglo-American universities are at the top of the hierarchy of universities in the Western world. The ethos in Finnish universities emphasizes Greek philosophy, which includes only male thinkers and even today, appraised and quoted scientific thinkers are mostly male, or at least born or educated in the Anglo-American universities. For example, one of our group members participated in two Philosophy of science courses this academic year. The courses gave an overview of only Western philosophy, thinkers and perspectives that represented white hegemony. We can’t help but think, what if the courses would have had a more diverse array of philosophical theorisations from multiple geographic and cultural backgrounds? Often, perspectives that differ from the assumed cultural norm, in this context, Western philosophy, would help to broaden the understanding of the topic in question.

So we conclude with a call for non-white curriculum content and the dismantling of the structures that perpetuate white hegemony in the University!

Group F



Andreotti, V. (2011). Actionable postcolonial theory in education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hortelano, P. (2015, November 30). On practicing anti-racism in academia. Rasismista ja rajoista – Maailma rasisminvastaisten tutkijoiden silmin [On racism and borders – The world from the viewpoint of antiracist researchers].

Hussain, M. (2015, March 11). Why is My Curriculum White?. National Union of Students.

Seikkula, M. (2016, September 5). #WhiteCurriculum – opiskelijaliike eurosentrismiä vastaan [#WhiteCurriculum – student movement against eurocentrism]. Rasismista ja rajoista – Maailma rasisminvastaisten tutkijoiden silmin [On racism and borders – The world from the viewpoint of antiracist researchers].

Sue, D. W. (2004). Whiteness and Ethnocentric Monoculturalism: Making the “Invisible” Visible. The American psychologist, 59(8), 761–769.

‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ collective, UCL (2015 March 23). 8 Reasons the Curriculum is White. Novara Media.


Why is My Curriculum White

Decolonise Leeds – 14/3/16

The desperate need for humanization and new definitions of normal in education

I went to school with all of my treasures, including my Spanish language, Mexican culture, familia (family), and ways of knowing. I abandoned my treasures at the classroom door in exchange for English and the U.S. culture; consequently, my assimilation into U.S. society was agonizing… I was overwhelmed with feelings of shame over the most essential elements of my humanness. As a result, my experience in the U.S. educational system was marked by endless struggles to preserve my humanity.” -Maria del Carmen Salazar (2013)

This is a great example of how society sets expectations upon individuals and try to make them fit into a certain mould or shape. Should students with special needs be “shaped” or “normalized” or should the educational system change shape so that everyone fits in?

Salazar discusses in her article, A Humanizing Pedagogy: Reinventing the Principles and Practice of Education as a Journey Toward Liberation, the desperate need for humanization in education. For example, when students of color experience academic difficulties, their struggles are often associated with their language, culture and home environment. This behavior results in an expectation among these students that they should “act, speak and behave as much as possible like the White middle class”. In other words, they are stripped of their own cultural resources because the environment around them wants them to live up to their expectations. (Salazar, 2013.)

In this sense humanizing pedagogy can be seen to discuss with the approaches that point out that social environments, attitudes, pedagogies and teaching spaces are the original source of disabilities and restricted understanding of one’s possibilities, be it the colour or any kind of dis/ability of the student. In this sense, disability is something that the society ”does” to a person. For example, people in wheelchairs, deaf people or autistic people are disabled not because of their problems with moving, hearing or understanding situations but because the environment in is not set up in a way that would support them, thus disabling them.

Creating a truly inclusive environment and accessible spaces that enable everyone seems to be one of the trickiest questions when it comes to balancing with the inclusiveness and special arrangements. Placing pupils with disabilities to own spaces is usually an attempt to meet the special needs better. But no matter how necessary separated spaces may be in special education, separation is well known to trigger social stigma.

Could it be possible to lessen that stigma by redefining our understanding of “the normal”? The underlying concepts of normality encompass the categories of the white, the able and the middle class, that define not only our understanding of each person’s possibilities, but also determine the standards by which regular spaces are constructed. Redefining the normal would therefore mean taking the inclusiveness as an unquestionable standard. That way the nondominant students, as Faltis and Abedi (2013) put it, would not be separated from dominant students and the social stigma of students with special needs could also lessen. One consequence of an inclusive definition of normal would be, as we discussed at the lesson, that every teacher would have the facility for meeting the special needs of students. At least class teachers should have much more studies about special education. That would of course not nullify the need of special needs assistants.

Salazar also points out that due to the current educational system with instructional curriculums and standardized tests it is nearly impossible for educators to develop a humanistic approach. Paulo Freire didn’t include specific tools in his pedagogy in order to point out the importance of the context specific methods and practices. However, the average teacher is balancing with timetables and multiple learning objectives set by curriculum. In the Finnish context, the relatively extensive freedom of teachers may also mean lack of tools in working towards more humanizing approaches.

Even though Salazar uses her own experiences as an example and mostly discusses “minority” issues linked to culture and race, the message is very clear. The educational environments should not set boundaries, but welcome all with open arms, giving everyone the same basic right to try and achieve. All students should be supported, despite their abilities or disabilities. Their multiple identities should have the possibility to evolve within a meaningful sense of achievement, purpose, power, and hope. (Salazar, 2013.)

– Group L



Del Carmen Salazar, M. (2013). A Humanizing Pedagogy. Review of Research in Education, 37(1), pp. 121-148.

Faltis, C. && J. Abedi (Eds.) (2013). Extraordinary Pedagogies for Working Within School Settings Serving Nondominant Students. Review of Research in Education, 37(1), pp. vii-xi.

Elimination of ableism

During the previous lecture, Karl-Mikael Grimm explained social justice in terms of disability and ability. Usually, when it comes to special education, individuals and diagnosis are what people focus on, but it is revealing and inspiring that both the lecture and the assigned readings have provided us with other aspects, such as social and structural perspectives to examine this issue.

Unfair Treatments toward Disabled Students

One of the problems which should be paid more attention to is the phenomenon that disabled students only account for an extremely small proportion of students studying at secondary schools or universities. One reason, at least in Finland, is that starting from upper secondary education, it is no longer necessary to organise special education, which discourages disabled students to go further with their studies to upper secondary or even higher education after graduating from lower secondary school. It is actually sort of a structural discrimination. Moreover, being able to spell and having good writing skills are currently the basic requirements for students, especially in upper secondary education and higher education. However, it is somehow unfair for instance to dyslexic students because they may have difficulty demonstrating and expressing their knowledge and opinions even though they could be as good as other so-called “normal” students. It is sad that those students who would have so much to give to the academic society are dropped from the higher education just because they need some additional support that is not available currently . Agreeing with the statement in Thomas Herir’s article that “there is more than one way to walk, talk, paint, read and write”,  we think it might be worth considering, whether or not spelling and writing skills are really an indication of one’s academic level, especially when nowadays we have many computer programmes which can help check and correct spellings.

Humanisation of Special Education

According to Sarazar, humanisation of education is vitally important. Basically, it is a “process of becoming more fully human as social, historical, thinking, communicating, transformative, creative persons who participate in and with the world”. However, disabled students are still not fully treated in a humanised way. Just like African students in the US are being considered inferior to the White in hidden norms, disabled students are also regarded as inferior because of what they lack when compared to “normal” students, which is actually the presentation of ableism. Grimm raised an example during the lecture, which is that a blind student is different from a student who is blind because there already exists a preconception that the former is lower in status, while the latter is treated as a normal person, but he just has some defect. It is really worth reflecting about the way in which we regard disabled students. To reach humanisation, People should treat them like the latter way. Therefore, educating other students and teachers how to behave towards them properly and fairly is really essential.

Educating Teachers as a Solution

Herir also states that “the dilemma parents and educators face around the issue of labeling need not exist if schools employ research-based practices and improve their special education programmes’’. For the improvement to happen, teachers should learn more about special education and diversity. According to studies, it is interesting to know that pupils with special needs tend to achieve higher learning results in ’’normal classrooms’’ and that classes providing special education do not actually improve the future employment of students. The prevailing issue of how to provide an inclusive education for all students in the best possible way could be solved by educating teachers in special education. Teachers may further hold different views on what inclusive education actually means and entails, which is problematic in itself.

Group E

The all-inclusive classroom

We started to play with the idea of an all-inclusive classroom and what it would look like. We didn´t just focus on the disabled students but also on the teachers as well as the nondisabled peers and learning environments.

We see diversity as an important part of education and do not see segregation of students as the right way forward. Disabled students should be able to participate in “normal” education alongside their nondisabled peers. We also felt that we agreed with the thought of why teachers are being divided into classroom teachers and special education teachers and not just trained so that they are able to teach both groups. Therefore, teachers get better understanding about disabilities and know how to naturally act with these students. For our ideal all-inclusive classroom to work we would need smaller group sizes to reduce stress from both teachers and students, flexible study environments and an overall change in attitudes towards diverse students in education. To be able to influence students’ attitudes towards more acceptable and tolerant to peers that may look or sound different, teachers should have explicit instructions how to act in schools. Like the KiVa Koulu -programme. And of course teacher education should also include courses where students could reflect on their thoughts and attitudes about all-inclusive classrooms and what a teacher can do to make safer spaces for all students. This Social justice and diversity course is a good example because it makes us think of social justice from different point of views.

We will present our idea from four different perspectives as following:

The disabled students perspective

-Individualized planning of studies and alternative tools for studying

-Getting the same education and opportunities as nondisabled students by participating in normal education

-Positive support and encouragement from both peers and teachers to reach better learning outcomes as studies has shown

-Gives the chance to be “normal” amongst other “normals” and not to be labeled

The teacher’s perspective

-Adequate teacher training to work equally with all kinds of students

-Peer support and co-teaching models

-More special needs assistance in class

-The opportunity to find solutions to problems and see progress and not just push difficulties away

The nondisabled peer students perspective

-All-inclusive groups could change attitudes and increase acceptance of diversity

-Important values such as helping others, respecting others could be learned

-Sharing the same classroom with disabled students from an early age so that inclusion is seen as normal rather than something abnormal

The learning environment perspective

– Flexible and movable furniture

– Electronic devices to help and to support learning processes

– Other aid equipment used as tools to help learning processes (headphones, blankets)

We do understand that our thoughts might seem utopian in practice, but one can always dream of a better and more just future. However the first step towards change is to talk about issues like disability in education and take action in changing ableist views that exist. In a perfect future all classrooms would be all-inclusive and social justice would be an integrated part in all activity in education, from kindergarten all the way to higher education.

Teachers have a lot of pressure during the school day. Their job is demanding and therefore job strain has increased enormously. Increased social problems, restlessness and bullying are issues which they have to deal with a lot. From this point of view the idea of an all-inclusive classroom might sound a bit too challenging to carry out. Teachers need to lean on each other, have an open-minded, caring and constructive working environment so that it’s possible to implement ideas like this in schools. And as future experts on education and training, it is our task to discuss about such important issues like social justice with each other and lecturers.

Safe(r) places

A Safer Place is  a “supportive, non-threatening environment that encourages open-mindedness, respect, a willingness to learn from others, as well as physical and mental safety” (Coalition for Safer Spaces, 2017). Safer places are areas where everyone can come as they are. There is no judging, joking inappropriately or assumptions of gender/sexuality/race. Sometimes every one of us may say something disrespectful by accident, but those situations can be instructive and that way we can change our way to talk and think.

At the lecture we discussed how we and other students can make places safe by our own behaviour. Like mentioned before, recognizing our own limitations and prejudices, we are already considering other people’s feelings and by this way already creating open-minded atmosphere. Being part of majority culture often still makes us blind to cultural differences and possible discomfort of minorities. Little things that most of us majority group members take for granted, like proper accessibility in public buildings, may be a requirement for making a comfortable environment for, for example, disabled people. Because of this, opinions of diverse users should be heard and taken into account while making decisions concerning safer places.

Some criticism can be also focused towards safer places. Like discussed in the earlier lectures, social justice is a multidimensional concept and can’t be created by specific group of, for example, adults. The whole school and the community in it should be engaged in creating an environment that supports diversity and open-mindedness amongst all people, but this is easier said than done. For example bullying takes place also in other contexts than in schools, it might also appear outside schools and for example in internet.

In some respects, many hobbies and hobby groups can reinforce unsafe environments, particularly if there is a concept of masculinity or femininity that is considered inherent to the group’s identity. Very often places such as some forums on the internet (e.g. 4chan and some areas on Facebook and Reddit) as  well as men’s sports teams are rife with language and social behavior that enforces gender, social, racial and economic exclusion and disparity – the infamous “locker-room talk” is a prime example of this.

Although this is a phenomenon in most social groups and age groups, it seems that this behavior is particularly prevalent in school. This relates to a previous lecture subject on (gendered) violence in schools, and how the school system can sometimes perpetuate these sort of behaviors. Indeed, for many children and adolescents, school is the most “non-safe space” of all.

What makes it difficult to tackle these issues is often the fear of social exclusion. In many cases, to point out these loaded comments and actions is to essentially break away from the group’s internal cohesion. In many cases, the groups that one belongs to consists of one’s very best friends, and we are reluctant to the extreme to be the ones who stick out of the crowd.

In addition to concrete school buildings, teachers and parents should co-work with each other and students to create an attitudinal environment based on trust and mutual respect. It is not only schools’ responsibility to take care of children’s safety and without proper collaboration with parents safer places are only based on superficial solutions. Proper communication and opportunities for open conversation are key elements for well-planned safer places, that are not only safe for specific groups.

Special education is for students with special educational needs. Common special needs can be learning disabilities, communication or behavioral disorders, physical disabilities and developmental disabilities. Special education is always tailored to meet each student’s individual needs and differences because there is no ”one size fits all” approach to special education. Students with special needs are likely to benefit from additional educational services like different approaches to teaching, the use of technology or a specifically adapted teaching area.

It is sad but true that children with disabilities have a bigger risk of being bullied. It is easy to pay attention to what is different or unusual. In special education all students have some problems or difficulties. However, it might be problematic if the special education is too focused on disabilities rather than the strengths. What if special educators would look at what a child can do instead of what he/she cannot do? Once you know your students’ strengths you can as teacher develop strength-based learning strategies. Maybe a safe space can be built by focusing on strengths and positive things.

In the lecture we talked about places where there are specific signs that say, e.g. “this is a discrimination free zone”. This kind of label exists for example in our university’s gym. The meaning of these signs is of course very good, but I started to think whether it’s really necessary to have these kinds of texts for adult people?! I think it’s kind of sad that you need to remind adult people to be kind and respectful towards each other. In our opinion every place should be safe from discrimination without specific texts to reminds us about it.

Group K

Hello from the other side

In our last blog post we wrote about different realities and how important it is for teachers to reflect their own behavior. But what really happens after teachers become aware of their behavior and assumptions? It can be overwhelming to notice how little one person can do. In Fischman’s and Haas’ article (2009) there is an example of a teacher who said that she use to have so-called Hello Kitty hopes. She meant that she had unrealistic hopes about what she can do as a teacher. One claim of critical pedagogy is that teachers have a central role in challenging educational systems. Although they cannot do all by themselves. It is unrealistic to hope to be a super-caring-knowledgeable-efficient-teacher all the time. In other words teachers can’t always be conscious and prepared for every situation. More important is that teachers are committed to their work and learn from their mistakes. Being a teacher (or a human) is a continuous learning process. It is okay to be lost sometimes and have bad days. We all do. But there is always something that we can do in our daily lives to communicate better with each other.

In lesson we talked about the concept of safer spaces, which offers us one aspect how we could respect diversity in interaction with others. Safer space can be understood as a place, which is welcoming, engaging and supportive environment that encourages open-mindedness, respect and a willingness to learn from others. Safer space is also critical of the power structures that affect our daily lives where power dynamics, backgrounds and the effects of our behaviour on others are prioritizes. Safer places are quite sensitive in nature and we might make a place unsafe without even realizing it. When we interact with others we might easily make assumptions based on their appearance and behaviour. For example we can assume that someone is a girl or a boy by the way they are dressed even though we have no knowledge of their thoughts concerning gender. Or we could categorize something as ‘abnormal’ if it seems different from that perspective what we consider ‘normal’. By saying that something is ‘normal’, we also renew cultural hegemony and power structures that also creates the feeling of social exclusion. The aspect of ‘normality’ also implicitly refers that some are more privileged than others.

The idea of the privileged was central also regarding Allen’s (2009) article “What About Poor White People?”. Being privileged is also one aspect of the reality that often remains unveiled especially within school context. There can also be false beliefs in terms of how being privileged is understood and particularly in relation to whom one considers to be privileged. To water it down, Finnish Whites can e.g. consider themselves to be privileged relative to people living in the poor countries or areas of Africa but not necessarily relative to a non-white Finn even though Allen (2009, 212) points out: “ – – that relative to people of color all Whites are privileged by a system of White supremacy – -”. The big question is then according to Pease (2010, iix), if it is possible for members of privileged groups to overcome the interests of their own group. Pease (2010) addresses this theme of privileged wider and in a very interesting way in his book “Undoing Privilege: unearned advantage in a divided world”. Probably the main agenda of the piece is as Pease (2010, ix) expresses it, to acknowledge that oppression is not understood without the understanding of privilege. That said, it would be very important for all people to ponder one’s own position in relation to others and teachers can set an example by reflecting and addressing the concept of privilege and in that way pay attention on such things as safer spaces more widely in the fields of education and working life as well. These kind of soft values (which safer spaces could probably be considered) as making atmosphere safe to everyone in the group would probably have a huge influence to efficiency and other harder values as well. It’s also interesting to discuss all the things that affect on this concept and to question the way we behave ourselves in groups and different environments. Am I making this space safer as far as I’m concerned? When talking about safer spaces it’s also essential to notice, as already mentioned above, the fact that we are all humans making mistakes. The important question probably is how we can learn from those mistakes and remember something about this lesson later on. The idea on reflecting your own behaviour doesn’t mean that you couldn’t let yourself be incomplete. And last but not least, it’s good to remember that you should try to make the space safe for yourself as well, not only for the others.

Group D: Annika, Minna, Paula & Sorella

What is ‘’Safe Space’’ and who is it for?

In today’s Social Justice lecture on intersections Iida Pyy introduced us to the concept of safe space. We found that this was a welcomed intervention and it suited well as a part of this particular session since intersections of privilege and disadvantage such as ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability can so easily be lost in the assumptions present in the classroom. These assumptions are enacted in how the teacher talks and what s/he talks about as well as how the students talk, act and relate to each other. We were left wondering how to make the uni classroom a safer space? And why is it important?

Safe space or safer space refers to an environment that is open to different expressions, cultures, ethics, genders, ethnicities, etc. The concept of safe space, as we understood it, is free from presumptions about “us” as white Finns, heterosexuals, men or women, able-bodied and able-minded. The Coalition for Safer Spaces is a good place to start, if one wants to know more about the subject. And a very important issue, particularly in a university setting, is the question of how to make social justice education more accessible to those, who are not familiar with all the hottest concepts, theories and theorists.

When it comes to creating a mentally and physically safe space by cherishing an engaging and supportive learning environment, it is hard to know whether everyone present is on the same page. Touching is a good example of something that can be done with good intentions (to show kindness) but can be perceived as unpleasant or even threatening. The difficulty is that people have different expectations for situations that require social interaction, such as classroom discussions. There is a difference between a debate (a battle of ideas) and a dialogue based on mutual respect. We see that the latter could be fostered as part of the practice of safe space. Committing to some guidelines for safe space can for example remind us about the importance of asking for consent before touching another person. And it can help us remember that we cannot know one’s gender, religion or socioeconomic status by looking at them.

The division between poor and non-poor in Ricky Lee Allen’s “What About Poor White People?” stirred up discussion in our group. When we talk about the poor, who are we thinking of? Are we assuming that none of the people we are surrounded by are poor? At least in Finland being poor isn’t something you can necessarily see on the outside. Thanks to our (almost) free higher education, people with meager financial means can attend university. Of course, due to the impact of social background on the heritability of educational attainment it is less likely, but not impossible.

As Andrew Smiler writes on unintentional gender lessons, schools provide an important setting for transmitting socially held values including beliefs about gender-appropriate behavior. These beliefs are transmitted informally through school structures, teachers’ comments and students themselves. Safer space aims to create a space where everyone could acknowledge and challenge their assumptions, for example about gender-appropriate, “masculine” or “feminine” behavior and sexuality.

A safe space can also be viewed from the perspective of the teacher. Making mistakes and learning from them should be a natural part of teaching and the overall school context. As Freire also highlights: ’’by struggling I become conscious/aware’’. The teacher can be a committed intellectual, as Gustavo Fischman and Eric Haas suggest in their article on critical pedagogy, even though s/he feels confused in some situations. When a teacher or a student violates the safe space this can be used as a teachable moment. The debate about gender roles (which often arise in everyday situations), may well be used as an example; children and young people who are behaving in breach of certain gender norms, often face discrimination. Safe spaces can also be created through these teachable moments when teachers and students reflect on their thoughts, language or action and become more aware of what is safe and what is not.

The concept of safe space has been criticised in different ways and what some have suggested is that the idea of safe space implicates that the rest of the world is unsafe. Unfortunately, this is in many respects the case. Many spaces in the world are unsafe, which makes it necessary to have safer spaces. A seemingly mundane thing such as segregated bathrooms can create a very unsafe environment for those who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth or do not fit into the binary. First of all, there is the forced choice of which bathroom you go to and then the possibly excruciating experience of being called out for presumably being in the “wrong one”.

We wrote this blog post in the group study room of the Learning Centre Minerva. Right beside the room are two bathrooms which to our joyous surprise read: Kaikille/För alla/For all. Way to go! This is a good direction towards safer spaces in the university.

Group F


References and further reading:

Allen, R. L. (2008). “What about poor white people”? In W. Ayers, T. Quinn, & D. Stowall (Eds.), Handbook of Social Justice in Education (pp. 209–230). London: Routledge.

Coalition for Safer Spaces. (2010, 4 April). What are, and why support, ‘safer’ spaces (Blog post). Retrieved from here.

Cumming-Potvin, W. & Martino, W. (2014). Teaching about Queer Families: surveillance, censorship, and the schooling of sexualities. Teaching Education, 25(3), 309–333.

Fischman, G. E., & Haas, E. (2008). Critical Pedagogy and Hope in the Context of Neo-Liberal Globalization. In W. Ayers, T. Quinn, & D. Stowall (Eds.), Handbook of Social Justice in Education (pp. 565–575). London: Routledge.

Kjaran, J. I. & Jóhannesson, I. Á. (2014). Inclusion, exclusion and the queering of spaces in two Icelandic upper secondary schools. Ethnography and Education, 10(1), 42–59.

Smiler, A. P. (2008). Unintentional Gender Lessons in Schools. In W. Ayers, T. Quinn, & D. Stowall (Eds.), Handbook of Social Justice in Education (pp. 358–370). London: Routledge.

Thom, K. C. (2015, 27 September). 9 Ways We Can Make Social Justice Movements Less Elitist and More Accessible. Everyday feminism. Retrieved from here.

Guilt tripping in working life

Guilt trips are a form of verbal or nonverbal communication in which a guilt inducer tries to induce guilty feelings in a target, in an effort to control their behaviour. As such, guilt trips are a clear form of psychological manipulation and coercion.

There were several interesting topics in a lecture, but we found David Graebers guilt tripping theory especially interesting. Before lecture we all watched a video about mortgages in Spain. This video was one really good example about guilt tripping and power relationships. We realised how big problem guilt tripping is and how wide its impact is on people’s behaviour and life’s. We all have our first guilt tripping experiences when we are small kids.

We were also discussing about guilt tripping in working life. Supervisor and employee relationship offers an interesting view to that. In practical working life there might be (especially in big companies) some extremely demanding supervisors. Nowadays the culture of doing business is getting more serious and you should be reached around the clock. It might be that the supervisor is a nice person, but he or she expects the employee act like others, even though it’s not what agreed in the contract. For example an employee has many tasks to do and a supervisor assigns some more (not his/her normal tasks). When they have the discussion about the tasks and individual performance at work, the solution what supervisor offers is that the employee should work outside working hours (24/7). The supervisor uses especially the argument that everyone else is working at least 6 days in a week and also every evening. After this the employee feels guilt but most importantly not motivated at all. In our group discussions we came into the conclusion that guilt tripping kills the motivation at work. Furthermore it might be also very hard to fix. In this case supervisor’s goal might be to get employees work effectively and according to equitable principles (because everyone else is working, you should be working). But the truth is that the employee’s efficiency gets even worse when he/she is not motivated.

That’s why it’s very important to recognize guilt tripping messages in working and also in other life. As we saw in video, it really can have harmful causes to people. If guilt tripping happens in working life, it can cause fatigue, exhaustion and even depression for employees. And that has of course impact also to people’s other life. So to sum; this is a subject which can be hard to recognize and identify. That’s why especially in working life people has to be aware of it.

/Group C