Testing the Power of Geography to Determine One’s Fate - Pacific Standard

Testing the Power of Geography to Determine One’s Fate

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Conventional wisdom and research both suggest opening up better-off communities to those who were born into bad luck.

By Jim Russell

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Children in a primary school in Vaasa on the second day of school in Finland. (Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images)

Geography is a lottery. Draw a birth in the right place, enjoy a longer life. Too many people are born in the wrong place, which drives migration. The move to improve is the primary way we battle the tyranny of geography.

A secondary way we battle the tyranny of geography is to improve a place. Better schools mean better outcomes for residents. One needn’t leave to find a better fate. But improving a place takes time, a lot of time. Easier for a resident to relocate than to wait and see how the new policies pan out for the next generation.

The classroom gives geography its power to determine your fate. In Finland, the classroom annihilates geography.

In the United States, both conventional wisdom and research suggest opening up better-off communities to those who were born into bad luck. In effect, the expediency of migration trumps the long, hard slog of community development. A wealthy county in the Washington, D.C., metro area should not concentrate the poor into one or two schools. All students are better off in an environment of demographic diversity. Desegregate and ameliorate inequality.

Finland says we are wrong. Instead of integrating, the country “re-engineered” the schools. Up until the age of 16, every child experiences education in the same way. Instruction aims to promote upward mobility for the poor. That is the goal.

Even in excellent American schools, students are segregated by ability. Which seems to result in a segregation of class and then residence. All the efforts to desegregate the schools is for naught. The classroom gives geography its power to determine your fate. In Finland, the classroom annihilates geography.

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