How did Finland manage to elevate the role of teacher in the eyes of the population to something that is not just an honorable profession, but a revered profession, whereas in the United States, teachers are so regularly denigrated?
They really think about teachers as scientists and the classrooms are their laboratories. So, as I mentioned — every teacher has to have a masters degree, and it’s a content degree where they’re not just taking silly courses on education theory and history. They’re taking content courses that enable them to bring a higher level of intellectual preparation into the classroom. That’s the first point.
The second point is that they’ve defined professionalism as working more collaboratively. They give their teachers time in the school day and in the school week to work with each other, to continuously improve their curriculum and their lessons. We have a 19th century level of professionalism here, or worse, it’s medieval. A teacher works alone all day, everyday, and isolation is the enemy of improvement and innovation, which is something the Finns figured out a long time ago. Get the teachers out of their isolated circumstances and give them time to work together.
Roger Angell, a writer for the New Yorker since the 1940s, once described palindromes as “a literary form in which the story line is controlled by the words rather than by the author.” My sense is that Duncan would probably say that’s a description of other people’s palindromes. Because part of what makes him a master is his refusal to cede control. When things are going really well with a Barry Duncan palindrome, when he’s really in a zone, he thinks to himself, I’m making these letters do my bidding. Sure, he’ll have fun with word combinations, and he pens countless short palindromes that probably ought to be considered as coauthored by the words themselves.
There’s a joke he likes to tell, a pickup line he swears he’d never really use: “I’m a master palindromist, and I can teach you how to neutralize the letter h.” Not so lucky in love, he often teases his mother sarcastically by saying, “Mom, I don’t have a girlfriend. And I’m a master palindromist.” It’s fair to say that Duncan’s under no illusions about how the world perceives the invisible craft.
Duncan has tried writing in other styles, but his talent for more traditional literary forms has never approached his way with palindromes. “I have a real problem constructing plot,” he says, “and I think part of that is that I have little command of logic in my daily life. I mean, I just don’t know what’s going on.”
“I think people who enjoy short stories have a special gland, one that responds to the unexpected with little bursts of pleasure chemicals. I’m always suspicious of people who love to read, but who don’t like short stories. These people, I think, if they have the gland, have a shriveled thing, an atrophied little apple core. I pity these people. They are missing out on these inky little orgasms.”—Adam Marek, from “Short Circuit”