Skolan och ojämlikhetens urbana geografi, by Nihad Bunar & Ove Sernhede

Skolan och ojämlikhetens urbana geografi - Nihad Bunar, Ove Sernhede

Here I go reviewing textbooks again. And this one is in Swedish, so approximately none of you will get a chance to read it, and that's something of a shame. 

 

For background: until the late 90's, Sweden's school system constantly topped international charts on pretty much any metric, from access, through literacy, to actual grades. So of course it had to be reformed. Instead of schools having defined catchment areas, (i.e. "school zones", if you live on X street, you go to Y school), parental choice was implemented, giving parents more or less unlimited choice as to which school to send their children to. Your child is still guaranteed a place in the local public school, but you are not bound to send them there. Around the same time, private schools were released from the limitation of operating under non-profit constraints. 

 

The results have been pretty catastrophic - Sweden doesn't top the charts anymore, to put it lightly. 

 

This book is a collection of three major studies on the resulting big mess (can I use the word clusterfuck in an academic review? Why I think I just did, and it's pretty close to the only word that fits.) They were run under the umbrella of a "so how did that work out" government initiative to, well, see how things are going some years down the road, and it's really not pretty in oh so many ways. I suspect a lot of people in other countries, where student voucher type systems are run of the mill, would recognise most of the problems, but for egalitarian swedes, the results were... unexpected.

 

Probably one of the most interesting is the in depth look at the way Stockholm schools have turned into a whirling morass of students all trying to hop one step up the ladder. Let's start with the fact Stockholm is backwards to most cities. It's built on a bunch of islands, and it's really old, so the apartment block/skyscraper/projects kind of stuff didn't happen in the inner city, it happened on the edges instead, and there are great tracts in between of "villa areas", with individual houses, that used to be the suburbs until the apartment blocks started going up.

 

So unlike many other cities, "inner city" is pretty much code word for "very rich and elite", and "suburban", particularly the immigrant heavy southern suburbs in their blocks upon blocks of little apartments all the same, means "poor". In between, the "villa kids" meanwhile, are the middle class.

 

Side track: For a good look at the poor suburbs of Stockholm, specificallly Blackeberg, John Ajvide Lindquists vampire novel "Let the right one in" is actually really good. Except I don't think Blackeberg really has vampires. And the 2008 Swedish version of the movie is spectacularly bleak, and captures the area perfectly. The american remake not so much, I think it's set in Texas.

 

At this very top end of the social and economic elite, parents are attempting to jumpstart their pre-schoolers future careers by sending them to "transnational" schools, that teach classes in English and French and pop out perfect little international Ivy League potential students at the other end, some 15 years later.

 

At the very bottom end, we have the poor, socially excluded, and immigrant heavy southern suburbs, where parents are trying to improve their childrens chances at a good life in Sweden, by sending them away from the local schools, also full of other immigrant children, and into the city where they can go to school with "real Swedes".

 

And in the middle? We have the Swedish parents, resenting the resource cost of their nice middle class Swedish schools being filled up with immigrant children, but who don't have the economic resources for the elite private schools, so they do the next best thing: send their kids one or two suburbs inwards, hoping things are better there.  

 

Basically nobody is happy, except the folks running those private schools, who are now allowed to be profit-making enterprises, and have exploded all over the place, marketing themselves to all the unhappy parents. As you can imagine, these are completely disastrous when they fail 

 

So anyway, this book is really quite accessible, and a fascinating read. Shame most of you can't read it. So go read Ajvide Lindquist instead, that, at least, is translated.