Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lunch at the Finnish Consulate General's House

Remember that nice Finnish lady behind the bullet-proof glass?  Her name is Hanna and it's very possible it's her I owe her my thanks for inviting me to today's luncheon.  It was held in Bel Air at the home of Kirsti Westphalen, Consulate General of Finland, and the guest speaker was Pasi Sahlberg, educational guru of Finland. There were perhaps 30-35 people at the luncheon, mostly educational folks and philanthropists and venture capitalists; many are members of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.  From this view we are standing within the gates of the Bel Air neighborhood and her house is on the left.
This is the walk up the driveway - notice the insignia for the Consulate? Just to the right is where Hanna greeted us and checked us in.
And the entrance to the house....
We were greeted by Kirsti Westphalen and her husband, given sparkling water to sip, and shown to the terrace to socialize with the other guests. This is where I met the people who work at California State University Channel Islands and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

After a while it started to drizzle and we wandered inside, and then we were served home-smoked salmon from Finland with a light sauce, a potato served in a cube, and thin green beans.  The salmon had a deeper smoked taste than I've ever had before on fish and it was quite delicious.  Pasi was introduced and he spoke for about a half hour about the Finnish education system and he also compared it to ours in the U.S.  He was humble yet specific in his points of contrast between the Finnish and U.S. systems - he wasn't hesitant to say that Finland was successful in many areas, but he also said there are many ways to measure success.  (The Finns were still way better than us in most everything!) What I found most interesting were his points regarding equity and excellence - how the Finns determined more than 30 years ago that in order to have excellence in their education system they would have to have equity for all children.  All children should have the same opportunities no matter who your parents were or how much they had achieved educationally or economically. He also said the Finns didn't agree with the idea of having charter schools, and that, in fact, they were illegal.  I'm sure that comment made some of the people in the room uncomfortable because during the lunch conversation one of the men at my table said, "We like to focus on (improving) charter schools because that's where we have the most influence."

When the lunch was over, Pasi signed books and we had the chance to talk with him and ask him questions.  When it was my turn I asked him if he knew a friend of mine, Henry Heikkinen, and he responded, "Yes! I've known him for more than thirty years!"  I replied, "I've known him for a long time, too!  I really like Henry!"  He said, "I really like him, too!" This meeting was a very fortunate occurrence; Pasi and I are now acquainted and Pasi has extended his friendship to me because of our mutual friendship with Henry.  (Pasi said, "Anyone who is a friend of Henry is also a friend of mine,"  and then, smiling, he said, "That is the way it goes.") He invited me to Helsinki and told me he had several people he wants me to meet.  (I'm realizing this trip is becoming more than I ever thought it could be....)

Here's a picture of Pasi, just after we had our talk about Henry and what a wonderful person and friend he is to us both.

Thanks, Henry, for bringing us together.  

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