This is how we won the lottery

Kirjoittaja on New Yorkissa varttunut ja Helsingissä naisistunut copywriter.

Dear Mom,

There’s a saying here that being born in Finland is like winning the lottery. That’s true for lots of reasons, like the nightless nights, Salkkarit and the lunch salad at Skiffer. The world-class education system is a close fourth.

Here, when it comes time for your kid to start school, you feel sad because your baby is growing up so fast. For many parents in New York City, you feel sad that your baby is going to grow up without an education.

That’s because if you happen to live someplace like Harlem, the Bronx or any lower-income neighborhood, chances are your local public school is going to fail your kids, leaving them uneducated, uninspired and unprepared for life. Especially if you’re a minority. In the U.S., almost 60% of African American kids in 4th grade are illiterate.

But does where you come from have to dictate where you’re going? Or not going, as the case so sadly often is? Not in Finland. And not in the U.S. either if the charter schools have anything to say about it. And thank God they do.

The American public school system has been broken for generations, failing millions of kids, producing as many dropouts as graduates, and threatening everyone’s economic future. Yes, yours too. By 2020, the U.S. should have around 123 million high-skill jobs to fill and less than 50 million Americans qualified to fill them.

In Finland, almost the opposite is true. Why? Lots of reasons, of course. But by far the biggest is that the children of factory workers, bus drivers and cleaners have access to the same level of education as the kids of doctors, lawyers and politicians. You don’t need a PhD to see the significance of that. And that is exactly the idea behind charter schools, which aim to save the kids the public schools are failing. The lucky ones, that is.

Watch The Lottery and you’ll see the heartbreaking stories of four of the hundreds of thousands of families who try to escape the public school system every year.

Because there are way more applicants than there are spots, acceptance into charter schools is decided by lottery. Can you imagine how that must feel? If your kid’s name is pulled out of a hat, she’s got a good shot at filling one of those 123 million high level jobs some day. And more importantly, at a bigger, better and brighter future. If not…

You’d think everyone in their right mind would be able to see that we need more charter schools, not less. Right? Wrong.

Last week, New York’s mayor and schools chancellor said they were going to block one of the best-performing and most loved Harlem charter schools from using classrooms in New York City public schools that had been promised to them by the previous mayor. This would leave almost 200 kids with no school and even less hope.

One of my dearest friends has a daughter in a Brooklyn charter school. She and her husband were scared, angry and saddened by the mayor’s move. What could it mean for their own daughter’s school? Her education? Her dreams? Her future?

Sitting in my apartment in Töölö, the fear that my friend and thousands like her are feeling right now in New York is, well… about 4113 miles away from reality. But I’m pretty sure that anyone with a child can understand the desperate desire to want your own children to be everything they can be. And to have a future that’s even brighter than your own.

On Friday, the schools chancellor said she would, in fact, work to find space for Success Academy Harlem Central and its 194 scholars. I know her change of “heart” was influenced by pressure from the governor. I hope it was also the result of some soul-searching by the chancellor – a mother and grandmother herself. Whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen. But if my friend and the other parents have anything to say about it, you can be damn sure it will.

Anyway, now that you’re done reading this you’ll be in the perfect state of mind to watch The Lottery. It’ll take a little over an hour, so be sure to pee first and, most importantly, bring tissues.

Let me know what you think, Lissu