Ten posts over the past two years, tell me (at least anecdotally) that the International Baccalaureate (IB) is making schools and their academic officers think.
It’s easy to understand the IB philosophy and curriculum appealing to and meshing with boarding and private schools- with their commitments to worldliness, broad thinking and connections, diversity, and tolerance. It’s fascinating, and great, to see boarding schools offering the IB, such as New Hampton, adopt it as more than a curriculum, but as a fundamental organizing and thinking principle.
The IB’s rigorous requirements will not fit every student, but IB philosophy and lessons can serve as the foundations for a school-wide curriculum and outlook.
Back in July, Tamar Lewin covered the rise of the IB at Greely High School in Cumberland, ME (International Program Catches On in U.S. Schools).
“When our grads would visit from college, they’d tell us that while Greely gave them great academic preparation, they’d had no idea there was a big wide world out there,” said David Galin, Greely’s I.B. coordinator.
Much like New Hampton School, Greely seems to have adopted the IB for more than its rigor and perceived leg-up in the college admission game. Greely seems to be looking for more worldly thought and connection for its students.
“Our students don’t have as much diversity as people in some other areas, so this makes them open their eyes,” said Deb Pinkham, the program’s English teacher.
IB adoption isn’t a smooth, or easy, decision. Using the IB curriculum is much easier for private school administrations as they operate free from local politics. A fringe of parents and politicians see the IB as a United Nations internationalist movement that impinges on American and local sovereignty and self determination. The xenophobia seems barely contained. Bluntly, I was surprised that Lewin and the NY Times gave as much copy as they did to the anti-IB position.
The IB curriculum competes and squeezed established Advanced Placement courses. Teachers and administrators have to be trained in the model and students have to ‘up their game.’
Adjusting to the IB comes with bumps, scrapes and adjustments. Lewin provides this vignette from Kennebunk High School (ME):
“…Down the coast, where Kennebunk High School just graduated its first group of I.B. students, Sue Cressey, the I.B. coordinator, said that most of the students in the program the first year had thought about dropping out.
“There was a bad period after everybody flunked a biology exam,” she said. “I had to send a letter home to parents, reassuring them. It’s a new way of thinking, but the kids grew into it. I feel better about sending these kids to college than any group I’ve ever sent.”
Michael Tahan, one of the Kennebunk High School graduates explained to Lewin:
“In our Theory of Knowledge class, when we debated health care, my role was to take Rush Limbaugh’s position, which couldn’t be further from my own…I.B. taught us how to think through a position, and support it…and while I understand why some parents might worry that the program is international-based, I think it’s good for America for students to learn how others nations think.”
That, right there, is the work of an American lawyer in the American legal system. It doesn’t get any more American than that.