Vulcan’s Peak

Folly in Pennsylvania

February 21, 2006 6:48 pm

My first word in the matter of a Pennsylvania school board voting to discontinue the International Baccalaureate Programme is that I am extremely biased. Almost unabashedly so. The program and the friends I made there made my high school experience what it was, and I treasure that. I also credit IB with allowing me to stretch my mind, open my horizons, and challenge what I thought I was capable of.

So first, read these if you haven’t already:
AP: PA school board votes down Baccalaureate
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Educaton program splits Upper St. Clair
Just for good measure: Pug’s Place on the issue

That said, I would like to point out that there are some disgusting aspects of this story that should be apparent to anyone who is moderately interested in education – American or otherwise. Whether or not the Upper St. Clair school board wants to recognize it, we live in an increasingly globalized society. But Julie Quist, president of a conservative education group seems to think that loyalty is like a glass of water: when you use it all in one place, there ain’t any more. The only patriotism that might be undermined by an international, globalized view of the world is that blind sort of patriotism that slaps a “Free and Proud” sticker on the bumper and will follow the stars and stripes off a cliff if that’s where it leads. To my way of thinking, educating our children to think past that is not only a good thing but a necessary thing. Yes, America is a great place to live for most of us, but hubris will only get us into trouble. And “sense of sovereignty”??? All hail King George?? I think not.

Similarly, the allegation that IB’s endoresment of Earth Charter indoctrinates students with Marxist principles smells like rotting fish. Despite our German class jokes about Fred(rich Engels) and Karl (Marx)… No. There’s really nothing I can say about this one. Hell, I’ve read Marx…but in college – and my conservative little formerly Southern Baptist college at that. This is so incredibly bogus and these people don’t have a clue. IB is about making you think, forcing you to think, twisting your arm until you start to think for yourself. IB and indoctrination is a contradiction in terms. The classic liberal arts model that IB presents embraces original thought based on competency in a given subject. Or to put it another way, first you must know what you’re talking about, then you must have an opinion. Don’t you wish that were a rule for life?

It seems that the serious matters lie in less sensational lines. IB does cost the schools a pretty penny, not only for the exams taken at the end of the program, but also for lab equipment in the sciences and for teacher training. And education is notoriously underfunded just as teachers are notoriously underpaid. I can easily see how a program benefitting a small percentage of the student population would slip under the axe.

Especially when IB can look so much like other programs – for example, AP (which has American roots, if you’re still angsting over the first point). Now, I have no serious qualms about AP (though I’ve seen articles that would argue otherwise). In fact, I think that one of the smart things about Choctaw’s IB program is that it allowed for a modicum of overlap between IB and AP. Junior year we had English classes that were joint IB/AP and we all took the AP exam at the end. The same year, we were all doing U.S. history, so there was little practical difference between the AP class and the IB one; again, we all took the AP exam. In many other places, an AP course (or an honors one in 9th and 10th grade) and an IB one looked fairly similar, allowing people with really tight schedule to slip into the other program, especially in earlier years.

So why waste the money on this foreign program? What does it do that AP doesn’t? I would argue that it offers continuity. Like a college, it offers you a four-year track and expects you to work at a high standard in all subjects. It encompasses not only core subjects (English, math, science, history), but also requires four years of a foreign language, a certain amount of community service, and as icing on the cake, a four thousand word research paper (hey, fifteen pages was a lot at the time). And that continuity lends an almost interdisciplinary aspect to IB. Each of your teachers knows what you’re getting from the others and is aware of how the calculus you’re learning relates to the European history you studied two years ago or how issues pertinent to biology are important to a novel you’re reading for English.

Beyond that, the idea is suggested to you that you are not learning facts for the sake of cramming your head full of facts. You are in fact learning how to cram your head with facts. You are learning how to draw relations and correlations between facts and how to derive implications from them. While you learn about the world in which you are expected to be a global citizen, you are studying the art of learning. It is the argument for any liberal arts education, and I would apply it to my college experience just as readily. I’ve called high school my “preface to Furman” and I’ve called college “IB, part 2.” It works either way.

This is also the answer to board member Dr. Trombetta’s statement, “I want to know what that has to do with education” regarding an exam question about marriage forms and gender relations (which would be a perfectly viable question in my History of Africa course right now, by the way). The point is not to test knowledge but to encourage critical thought.

You might think that the 700 students who are suddenly no longer part of the IB program would be only too happy to give up the foreign language they hate or the extended essay they dread writing. And no doubt some of them are. But I suspect there are many – especially juniors and seniors – who feel cheated. Who were told that IB was an investment that would pay off by helping to prepare them for college. Who have put in a hell of a lot of work and feel unappreciated and unvalued by their community.

And that seems to me like a damn shame.

9 Responses to “Folly in Pennsylvania”

E wrote a comment on February 21, 2006


Pug wrote a comment on February 21, 2006

Ooh, that article you linked to halfway into this entry (with the text “(though I’ve seen articles that would argue otherwise)“) is gooood stuff. It’s a nice breakdown of why IB English is a superior course of instruction to AP English.

Odette wrote a comment on February 22, 2006

Not to undermine my own arguement, but I would add there that a terrific AP teacher and a worthless IB teacher would entirely throw that off. Plus I suspect that at least part of what the author notes as a difference in student behavior is a result of a situation similar to Choctaw’s. If you set up a system where the highest achievers gravitate to IB, then your AP classes will become the next level down – students who are perhaps not as excited about school, but still want to do well, etc. etc. But if you take away IB so that all your top students and best teachers are using AP, then your AP classes will logically be of a higher caliber. Furman actually has a very low percentage of IB grads; most come from schools that had good AP programs and have never heard of IB. Possibly the program just isn’t as prevalent in this part of the country. All the same, many of my friends here were less used to a heavy courseload when we started Furman than I was. I’m afraid that pointing to that article comes off as quite snobbish, I was a bit reticent to upload it, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Pug wrote a comment on February 22, 2006

I simply like the article’s description of the testing differences between IB and AP English. 🙂

Carmen wrote a comment on February 22, 2006

The article was interesting, but far too brief for my taste.


tempest wrote a comment on February 22, 2006

Umm, I read the article and have to agree with what you said in your post, that the top tier will attract the best students and therefore be the best. It’s not about IB English being better than AP IMO. In fact, when it comes to writing, I’m uncertain where things like poetry and creative writing come into play. For my part, I have been wholly incapable in that area because nothing ever comes to me. I’m just plain not the artistic creative type; I can’t even doodle in class when bored, because I can’t think of anything to draw; I just stare blankly. How does the IB creative writing reqs. make it better than AP?

Odette wrote a comment on February 23, 2006

What IB creative writing reqs?

Assuming you read the same article I did, the point is that the author thinks AP does a superficial job of testing English and that IB does it at least somewhat better.  That’s all, and having seen both, I think it’s a fair point to concede.

tempest wrote a comment on February 23, 2006

Whoops, wrong article.

OK, I see what you’re saying about the testing. I would respond that literary analysis is a soft subject that really doesn’t deserve anything better, but that’s me talking and I hated the subject. So let’s just leave it at that. *chuckles*

erinberry wrote a comment on March 10, 2006

I was appalled by this news as well – I graduated from my IB program eleven years ago and believe I received a very high-quality education.

I posted about this on my blog, too, if you care to read it.

Care to comment?