Fear is a poor teacher

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As an IB Social Studies teacher at LCHS and prior teacher of AP U.S. History, I have knowledge and familiarity with our district's high school advanced learning programs. Since the April School Board meeting, I have also had a young parent critic of IB visit my IB classes. From my conversations with this parent, the various My Turn essays, and from the Cd'A library presentation on Monday, I have gained a clearer understanding of the mindset and objections of the IB critics.

The IB critics are motivated primarily by fear, a fear that the American institutions and beliefs that they hold dear are threatened by "foreign" ideas. They base their opposition to IB on the close connection they perceive between UNESCO and the IBO. They see a threat to American sovereignty from the IB education system's endorsement of principles that coincide with ideas articulated in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). The primary objection to these principles seems to be the idea presented in Article 29 of the UNDHR that natural human rights are articulated by the U.N. organization rather than being derived from a divine creator (as per the Declaration) or from John Locke's principles of natural law. The IB critics are concerned that an education program that embraces the IB Learner Profile and advocates the principles underlying the UNDHR will create a mass of citizens who will not resist the implementation of a world government.

The IB critic's logic goes like this: The U.S. Constitution and national sovereignty are undermined by IB education because IB works with UNESCO which is a U.N. agency whose ultimate purpose, they believe, is to create a world government. The critics start with the fundamental assumption that the U.N. has the goal of creating a world government, then they find "evidence" to validate that concern.

If you start with the premise that a conspiracy exists, you will find "proof" that supports your assumptions (a self-fulfilling prophecy). This is especially true when your targets, the IBO and UNESCO, allow and promote so many different ideas and approaches to providing and improving education. Any content or question that can be interpreted as "un-American" validates the IB critics' fear, regardless of whether that question/content fosters critical thinking, forces students to examine their own prejudices and assumptions, or helps them identify the principles that they will value in their future decision-making.

The problem for the defenders of IB is that anything they present to defend the program is either insufficient to challenge the basic assumptions, or it "proves" that there is a conspiracy. Thus there really isn't any way to disprove the IB critic's conspiracy theory.

Does the IBO work with UNESCO on various programs around the world? Yes - both organizations provide and promote education around the world. The U.N. Education For All (EFA) agenda is a noble effort to improve the lives of disadvantaged people all over the globe. EFA has hundreds of individual, national, NGO, and corporate partners and sponsors all over the world, not just the IBO. That the EFA operates almost exclusively in impoverished nations because the U.S. education system already serves the vast majority of our population is irrelevant to the IB critics. (Notice that I just "proved" the conspiracy - IB is UNESCO's U.S. infiltration agent because the U.S. is too wealthy for EFA.) The IB critics choose to see a conspiracy to undermine the U.S. rather than a spectrum of programs designed to serve students around the world.

Does the IBO agree not to violate the principles of the U.N. mission in its cooperative efforts with the U.N.? Yes, but most organizations have quality-control or social responsibility requirements for their suppliers and partners - Starbucks' "fair-trade" coffee, Walmart's ban on rBST milk. As an agency that attempts to serve people of all cultures, traditions and beliefs around the world, it is reasonable that the U.N. would have standards for how their programs function in order to respect the diverse cultures and traditions of those disparate peoples. Those standards (articulated in the UNDHR) "prove" the conspiracy, regardless of what those standards (protection of stated human rights) actually are.

The fact that these rights are articulated by a human organization (Art. 29) rather than credited to "natural law" or a divine creator makes the conspiracy legitimate, according to the IB critics. But articulating those rights is unavoidable for a human organization attempting to respect the diversity of nations, cultures and people around the world. The UNDHR's focus on individual rights is precisely the concept that the IB critics say they want to defend. But they want to deprive both professional educators and our community of a high-quality option for our children's education.

The UNDHR represents a philosophical goal rather than an article of international law. The freedoms and rights it articulates are more expansive than those in the Declaration and U.S. Bill of Rights (in most areas). The UNDHR does attempt to be universally applicable to each individual and to confront the conundrum of where one's person's rights end and another's begin. The IB critics either ignore or oppose U.S. leadership establishing the U.N.'s system of rights and structures to mediate international conflict and guarantee individual rights (Eleanor Roosevelt was a primary drafter of the UNDHR). They fear a world government, so they see the U.N. as a world government, and they try to instill their fear in others.

That is what was going on at the Cd'A Library on Monday. It was not an open forum for discussing IB; it was an effort to indoctrinate our community into fearing and hating this program. They label the IB program's international mindedness as "indoctrination" and mis-define and then demonize "sustainable development" and "peace and conflict resolution" with their own interpretations of those words. Anything that they don't understand or agree with must be wrong, and anyone who opposes their interpretation of their "evidence" is either ignorant or complicit in their U.N. conspiracy theory.

Responding to the IB critics' objections is frustrating and wasteful in terms of time, energy and other resources. But it is also a central component of participatory democracy and absolutely necessary to protect against what the IB critics fear - the loss of principles and ideals that form the foundation of the American democratic republic. The IB critics do serve a function in forcing us to identify and reflect on our values and priorities, but we should not replace our own judgment and that of the professional educators we know and trust with the IB critics' fear-based conspiracy theories against a world-renown and highly effective education program (I just validated their fears again). Our local leaders - Superintendent Bauman and the School Board Trustees - have to make decisions based on facts, reason and good judgment rather than on polarizing and inaccurate language, spurious associations and fearful assumptions.

Most of the people in our community respect the education professionals who live among us and participate in the IB program. We teachers are the creators of the coursework and lessons that actually accomplish IB education in our schools. The IB critics' suggestion that we are complicit or unwitting pawns in a diabolical plot to undermine our own nation and our personal freedoms is as insulting and disrespectful as it is paranoid. We may not see the conspiracy the IB critics see, but we do know how to provide quality education for our students - it is our profession, our mission and our passion. The IB programs provide an excellent framework for preparing students to comprehend and participate effectively in the global world we live in.

Having taught in both the AP and IB systems, I believe I know how each serves students. AP does a great job of attempting to create courses that match college-level classes. It serves our best and brightest (the talented 10 percent) very well in terms of replicating a college experience and giving them access to college credits. IB serves a larger portion of the population, and, for diploma candidates, forces them to study outside their areas of strength. It requires that students integrate their knowledge across disciplines and actively participate in their community. These aspects of the program give students skills and knowledge that prepare them to take advantage of their college experience, and will make them more valuable to schools that realize and recognize these benefits (many colleges and universities already do).

IB students may not arrive at college with as many credits as AP students who have taken 6-8 AP classes (or they may enter as sophomores as several IB diploma candidates who have been admitted to Oregon state schools may do), but their critical thinking skills, diverse knowledge, empathy for others, and understanding of what and how and why they have been learning is almost certain to be more meaningful than without the IB program. I have tremendous confidence that District 271's IB students will practice a confident and informed patriotism that reinforces the best aspects of American principles and values as they become leaders and participating citizens in this great nation and our global community.

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