Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory

Photo: © Samm Bennett

Sounds like a random post, doesn’t it? And, yes it is random. I was reading This column will change your life in the Guardian (because I always read that paper) and I came across an interesting theory. The theory, known as The Helsinki Bus Station Theory goes like this (I’m quoting from Oliver Berkman at the Guardian):

So I invite you to imagine the scene. It’s a bus station like any big bus station … There are two dozen platforms, Minkkinen explains, from each of which several different bus lines depart. Thereafter, for a kilometre or more, all the lines leaving from any one platform take the same route out of the city, making identical stops … You pick a career direction … and set off …Three stops later, you’ve got a nascent body of work …

Now after you’ve got your body of work, people start comparing you to others who’ve taken roughly the same path …

Annoyed to have been following someone else’s path, “you hop off the bus, grab a cab… and head straight back to the bus station, looking for another platform”. Three years later, something similar happens. “This goes on all your creative life: always showing new work, always being compared to others.” What’s the answer? “It’s simple. Stay on the bus…


A little way farther on, the way Minkkinen tells it, Helsinki’s bus routes diverge, plunging off on idiosyncratic journeys to very different destinations … There are two reasons this metaphor is so compelling  … One is how vividly it illustrates a critical insight about persistence: that in the first weeks or years of any worthwhile project, feedback – whether from your own emotions, or from other people – isn’t a reliable indication of how you’re doing … The second point concerns the perils of a world that fetishises originality … yet the Helsinki theory suggests that if you pursue originality too vigorously, you’ll never reach it.

What does this mean for a home education blogger? Well, I think the first point is telling. I think home education is about persistence, particularly if you’re an unschool family. I think people will judge you because your kid isn’t reading at 3 1/2 or your kid isn’t doing algebra at 8. However, Helsinki Bus Station Theory suggests that the real response to naysayers who judge you is, who cares? Seriously? And anyway, when did my kid’s achievement become any of your business?

It’s a tough road to travel, the one that only a few others are on, and it may seem more difficult because, for a few of the stops, you’ve got nothing to go on: no grades (Oh my kid is so bright because s/he aced the NAPLAN, look how far over the average s/he is for grammar!), no feedback from ‘experts’ (my kid’s teacher says s/he is one of the best maths/English students they’ve ever seen!) and your kid is notionally not achieving as other children are (oh, your kid isn’t reading yet? Aren’t you worried?). But stay on the bus parent, your kid will get there, in their own time, at their own pace. And, they may be more likely to reach the destination they want to reach, rather than one that was predetermined by another who you got on the bus with and find that the place they’re going isn’t really for you.


3 Responses to “The Helsinki Bus Station Theory”

    • Rebecca English

      And I love your comments too. They are so considered and thought through. I am in constant admiration of your strength of belief, and I believe you have a very strong character.


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