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Paavo Kärenlampi:
Taistelu kouludemokratiasta.
Kouludemokratian aalto Suomessa

Bibliotheca Historica n:o 37
ISBN: 951-710-099-X (painettu versio)
ISSN: 1238-3503
Hinta: 120 markkaa.
264 sivua.

The Fight for School Democracy in Finland


The phenomenon studied in this work can be described as a wave movement that kept sweeping over Finland for more than two decades. In the beginning and until mid '70s, the wave was rapidly rising. The highest crest was reached in 1973 and 1974 when the Finnish school world was involved in fervent discussions about the increase of the pupils' power in school-internal decision-making, and at the same time, about giving more authority to the school councils. The wave kept rolling throughout the '70s until it started to die down in the '80s. The energetic interest in school councils cooled down, and representatives of various parties in Parliament spoke about overheating. By the mid-eighties, the concept of school councils had become history.

The school democracy movement was ideologically rooted in the centuries-old ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, as well as in the humanistic and democratic conception of man. Promotion of participatory democracy in schools had been one of the major objectives of the international student movement of the 60's. In Finland, the major political forces working for the implementation of school democracy were the Social Democrat movement, the Centre Party and the People's Democratic movement.

A unique phenomenon globally, the so-called "cross-voting" system was adopted as the election system for the grammar school councils. According to the system, each enfranchised teacher and student could vote for one student candidate and for one teacher candidate. Due to the larger number of students, cross-voting led in practice to student rule. The cross-voting system was a Finnish innovation which had been developed by the inner circle of "Teiniliitto", the Federation of Students at secondary and upper-secondary schools. This type of election was officially presented in the report of the school democracy working group, published in 1970. The argument for the cross-voting system was that it would eliminate the juxtaposition of students and teachers.

However, the juxtaposition was not eliminated in the schools which had adopted cross-voting. The teachers felt discriminated against because they could not choose their own representatives. Teachers asked whether the system, marketed as democracy, would lead to student rule. Here we must point out that students did not assume real power, not even in the cross-voting schools; the school principal was not only the pedagogic and administrative director, but also the preparing officer of the school councils. The teacher party still enjoyed general authority over the student party.

In the first school council elections in 1973, the cross-voting system was adopted in 90 grammar schools while the corresponding number was 101 in the secondary school elections. When the councils for 1975 were elected, the number of schools allowed to use the cross-voting system was down to 41, and that marked the end of cross-voting as the form of election of administrative bodies in compulsory schools. The study of the Teiniliitto source material showed that the purpose of the majority in the board of the federation was to limit the powers of the teaching staff, most of whom were regarded as being conservative. The aim of the general-democratic front of Teiniliitto (Social Democrats, People's Democrats, Centre Party and Liberal Party representatives) was to make the school-internal use of power correspond to the views of the students.

In the cross-voting schools, the teachers competing for the votes of the students were faced with a situation in which the students had formed their alliances under political terms. Since the majority of teachers wanted to choose their own school council representatives, the Finnish Teachers' Union, OAJ, took a stand against cross-voting. On 12 December 1974, OAJ and the top officials of the National Board of Education arranged a meeting and made an agreement whereby a school would not be allowed to adopt cross-voting if the majority of the teaching staff in that school was against it. This secret agreement, deposited in the safe of the National Board of Education, marked the beginning of a process which led to the elimination of cross-voting as an alternative form of election.

During the period of grammar school councils, the influence of the parents was at its lowest. At the beginning of the period studied in this work, the boards of the municipal elementary schools and the parent-teacher associations of the grammar schools had parent representatives. There was no parent representation in the grammar school councils, the underlining ideology being that school education and teaching was a collective social responsibility, rather than the responsibility of each family. When the comprehensive school system was finally adopted throughout Finland - the southernmost parts were the last regions to take over the new system in 1977 - the parents obtained new influence through the comprehensive school councils. In fact, the majority of the members in comprehensive school councils had to be elected among the parents of the students.

The school democracy wave that swept over Finland had started in Sweden. However, the development in the country's western neighbour had taken a different course. Sweden never tried to implement student rule along the lines of the cross-voting system, and the differences of opinion between the student and teacher organisations never led to as profound a confrontation as in Finland. The reasons for the differences were the following: in Sweden the labour pains of the new school system had subsided when in Finland the change was only starting. The reform of the Finnish school system coincided with the pan-European movement for strong close-range democracy which brought the situation to a head in the early '70s. The People's Democratic movement played a much more significant role in Finland than in Sweden, a further factor contributing to the poignant character of the Finnish school policy debate. Unlike the Central Organisation of Swedish Pupils, the Finnish Teiniliitto adopted the minority communist terminology in the early '70s. The difference in political cultures, a consequence of historical and social divergence, was a long-term factor contributing to the different developments in the two countries. The culture of interaction had started to develop earlier in Sweden while the Finnish political tradition was more aggressive.

The school democracy movement either boosted or stunted the influence of the organisations which were associated with it. In the early '70s, Teiniliitto was a growing force but by the middle of the decade, the organisation was faced with a political and economic collapse and loss of influence. The unexpectedly positive outcome of the right-wing Kokoomus (National Coalition Party) in the school council elections in February and November of 1973 caused confusion among the ranks of the general-democratic front. Finally, the front fell and the minority communists lost the bulwark erected in the name of general democracy. From 1973, the energy of the political youth organisations had been wasted in administrative school council work, and gradually, frustration started to spread among the operators. Teiniliitto had lost the fight over cross-voting, and after its economic crash, it was on the losing side. The same applied to the people's democratic and social-democratic pupil organisations, as well as to such organisations as "Demokraattiset Koulutyöntekijät" and "Koulutusalan Sos.dem. yhdistys". The operations of the former, an association of "democratic school workers" died down in the '80s while the focus of the social-democratic counterpart was no longer on legislative and administrative pursuits but on operations related to the internal development of schools. Nuoren Keskustan Liitto, the Centre Party youth organisation, once a member of the general-democratic front and thus in favour of cross-voting, had been more pragmatic about the issue of the election system. Therefore the loss of the general-democratic front in the cross-voting issue did not have any particular effect on Nuoren Keskustan Liitto.

The most active group in Teiniliitto, the Stalinist student movement did very well in the early '70s. It attracted young idealists who felt their ideology was a progressive pursuit towards a society where man would not exploit his fellow citizens. The moving of the grammar school politicians towards the most revolutionary fraction of the communist movement was boosted by the extreme slowness and difficulty of the reform within the Finnish parliamentary system. The radical administrative reform of the universities failed, the left-wing majority in Parliament was lost and replaced by a right-wing majority in the 1970 parliamentary elections. An analysis of the existing documents suggests that the communist student movement was striving for a profound change in society.

The fight of the youth organisations within Teinilitto was of party political character. After 1970, all major elections in Teiniliito were preceded by heavy party lobbying. In the long run, Kokoomuksen Nuorten Liitto, the Coalition Party youth organisation, did quite well: it became the biggest group in the grammar school councils. Since the Coalition Party representatives had not been in the general-democratic front, they could accuse the other groups of the excesses. It was a positive trend for the right-wing youth movement that the Finnish debate culture developed in the '80s into a "rhetoric of the market forces". The fact that the ideas of management-by-results were adopted in the schools was seen to be the same as accepting market economy values.

This study showed that the political activities run by Teiniliitto under the leadership of the general-democratic front were also motivated by a desire to democratise the traditional grammar school administration. The purpose of the political operations of the front was to change the school power structure. In his dissertation, Matti Hyvärinen made a conclusion about the university policy of the Finnish Stalinists, maintaining that the radical student movement was of non-political nature. This conclusion cannot be applied to school student policy. The fight for school democracy was a part of the culture and information war of the '70s in Finland, and the fronts were formed at every level, from schools to the Academy of Finland. Some of the involved parties hoped to change the social system, while others were afraid that such hopes might come true.

Dr. Hyvärinen's use of the concepts "political" and "non-political" differed from the general usage in historical research. In scientific historical debate, the concept of policy traditionally includes activities related to public power, and the pursuit of changing the power structures would be covered by the concept of policy. "Political" is considered to refer to all issues related to the use of power, either within a state or in international relations; in a wider sense, all background phenomena and factors which are considered to have an impact on the use of power. As a movement thriving to change the power structures and divided into party-political groups, the student movement was a political phenomenon.

Since the active school politicians were young, idealistic people, there was a need for a comprehensive theory that would give structure to the issues at hand, adding an aspect that can be observed through the approach of the history of ideas. In Finland, the political atmosphere of the '70s was favourable for radical ideas. Many opinion-makers of the student movement had experienced a political awakening along with the revolutionary student movement. The youth activist belonged to the reform-demanding post-war generations, and this study established that this was a phenomenon explaining the formation of the student movement. A neighbour of the socialist super power, Finland's foreign policy situation was a factor promoting the atmosphere which favoured the growth of radical ideologies. Expressly proyouth in his ideas, President Urho Kekkonen.'s active participation in the cultural debate also contributed to this. The crisis of generation hegemony and the suitable atmosphere caused a confrontation between the mainstream and the counter cultures. The world and experiences of the post-war generation were completely different from those who had seen World War II. The crisis of generation hegemony, combined with the favourable atmosphere, have much more weight in explaining the spread of the revolutionary student movement than the frustration theory and the associated narcissism. However, the latter phenomenon was also associated with the experiences of the student movement advocating school democracy: in their pursuit to create a democratic school, they felt they were doing something that had global historical impact.

The Finnish school policy debate lead to a radical confrontation between Teiniliitto and the teacher organisation. Most of the social debate in the early '70s took place with the use of left-wing terminology whereas the debate in the '80s was increasingly following the rhetoric of the market forces. In schools, the terminology of the market forces was introduced along with the management-by-results ideology. It is sometimes said in a very pointed way that in those days in Finland there was room for only one type of rhetoric at a time. School teaching and education inspired feelings which the parties tried to channel to their own benefit, a factor that contributed to the poignant character of the school discourse.

The school council system constituted a part of social education at the schools, and the purpose was to develop the pupils into active participants of a democratic society and responsible decision-makers. The grammar-school council system, with its premise of equality and democracy, gave the school pupil movement the opportunity to reach for more power in school-internal issues. According to the critics of the new system, it was an excess that the cross-voting system gave the students the opportunity to elect not only their own representatives, but also the teacher representatives. Another reason for the spreading dissatisfaction was the emphasis of the party-political aspect in the school council elections. In the political turmoil, it was easy to forget the main objective of school work.

Similar to the grammar school council, the main task of the comprehensive school council was to implement school democracy. Teiniliitto was strongly advocating the view according to which the school councils of the upper level of the comprehensive school should follow the example of the grammar school councils, as far as the mode of election was concerned. According to Teiniliitto, the student and teacher representatives would be elected through a vote, and there would be no need for parent representatives. However, the school councils at the upper level of the comprehensive school maintained a system whereby only two pupil representatives could attend the meetings, with the right to speak but not to vote. The modest powers of the comprehensive school councils frustrated many members of this administrative body. Due to the predominantly centralised administrative culture, most of the power was exercised by central municipal administrations, the Provincial Government school departments and the National Board of Education.

Contemporary to the rise of the school democracy wave, there was a significant increase in centralised administration and planning volumes. The trend was pointing towards a planned society. Planning tasks at the Ministry of Education, National Board of Education, Provincial Government school departments and municipal school administrations were increased, the number of personnel multiplied and the number of administrative tasks grew. The centralised mode of operation could seem feasible when a comprehensive reform of the national-level basic teaching and grammar school system were being implemented. Once the new organisation had been created, studies revealing the problems of the uniform, national curriculum of the comprehensive school and those associated with the implementation of the objectives of the school council reform led to gradually increasing decentralisation. The trend was promoted by new management doctrines such as "management-by-objectives" or "management-by-results". The outcome in Finland resembled that of other Nordic countries: most of the issues related to compulsory education were to be decided at the municipal level. The change in the schools was a consequence of the trends taken by the super-ideologies at the society level. In other words, local representative democracy was strengthened during the high tide of school democracy, while management-by-results made participatory democracy hit rock bottom.

The victory of the teacher organisation in the cross-voting dispute lead to the growing prestige of the Teachers' Union, OAJ. The union was also successful in the process which had started from issues relating to peaceful school working conditions. OAJ used the media to promote its interests, and achieved the adoption of smaller teaching groups. Due to the influence exercised by the teacher members elected to the school boards, these bodies assumed positive importance for the teaching staff. Another reason for the success in the pursuit of the teacher interests was the fact that the organisation could exercise a unified force. To a much larger extent than in any other European country, the Finnish teachers reached a unified consensus in their organisation. Almost all employees in the teaching branch were members of the same organisation. The success of OAJ in the fight for power discussed in the present work was a part of the post-war development process during which the influence of unions increased.

Since the implementation of school democracy had an essential impact on the working conditions of teachers, it is not surprising that most of the texts published on school democracy have been written by teachers or persons linked to the teaching profession. In terms of quantity, one professional group has had a major influence on the picture conveyed of school democracy as a historical phenomenon. In a critical treatment, we therefore have to give sufficient weight to the opinions expressed by tax payers, students and their parents.

The most active part of Teiniliitto, or the minority communist school student movement, tried to change the power structure of the Finnish compulsory school. Through the change of the schools, the movement aimed to reform society. It is justified to ask whether our previous historical experience reveals any phenomenon comparable to this pursuit for power. One parallel can be found in the so-called Fennoman students of the 19th century who acted upon the plea of the low status of the Finnish-speaking common people. The enthusiasm of the Stalinist students when they spoke about the exploited status of the working class was equal to that of the Fennoman students when they were defending the Finnish-speaking commoners. A rapprochement with the people took place, an ideal of national unification advocated during the nationalist era by the Fennomans, Akateeminen Karjala-Seura (the Academic Karelia Society) and Vapauden Akateeminen Liitto (Academic Federation for Freedom). In the '70s, the rapprochement, or getting closer to the people, took place in another form. As an object of identification, the working man replaced the peasant. In both cases, however, the ideological aspects used as the motivation for political activities were associated with the pursuit of political power.

This study showed that the objective of the school democracy movement was to increase equality, defined as the generation change of the social strata structure. During the school democracy wave, however, it became obvious that the education system remained a power that conserved the existing structures which maintained inequality. In this regard, school democracy was a disappointment for those social forces which hoped to use it for increased social equality.

The issue of education organised as a part of social policy was linked to the question of to what extent society should follow the planned economy model or the market economy model. During the period studied in this work, it was the market economy model that progressed. The political activity of the school students collapsed along with the calming down of the democracy wave. However, the school democracy phenomenon had left its mark on the exercise of power inside the schools. As concerned the internal atmosphere of the schools, the development had changed the community from what it used to be in the 60's when it all started. Traditional and modern elements had combined in a new way.

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