Last month, the Upper St. Clair, Penn., school board voted, 5-4, to terminate the well-regarded International Baccalaureate program. Their reasons cited were its cost and the parent organization’s association with the Earth Charter.
Similar efforts to can the program have popped up in other communities scattered around the country, including Minnetonka, Minn., Cherry Hill, Penn., Fairfax, Va., and San Diego, Calif. The campaign against IB parallels Christocratic political moves in Kansas and Dover, Penn., against teaching evolution and the Big Bang in science classes.
This growing movement against the IB program is yet another example of the Culture Wars led by right-wing religious and political groups. Their principal complaints are that the IB program is anti-American, pantheistic, pro-globalism, pro-evolution, pro-Marxist and pro-gay and lesbian.
And, they say, the IB program diverts students from a “real” education, one that presumably has them read the right books, say the right things, learn how great the U.S. is, and learn their math tables by heart. A “real” education, in their view, apparently does not include learning how to synthesize and analyze data, weigh disparate viewpoints, and see the U.S. as merely one nation among hundreds.
As is usual in cases like this one, the opponents tend not only to exaggerate their claims, but tend to mindlessly repeat the same objections without ever checking their veracity. So far, they seem to be a fringe element, as even Pres. George W. Bush favors the IB program. Fringe elements –for example, the intelligent design movement — lately have tended to become influential beyond their numbers, so examining this anti-IB trend is worth the effort.
The International Baccalaureate program was developed in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland, to provide students worldwide a common college-preparatory program. The original objective was to facilitate the college admission of diplomats’ children, but has since expanded to include the lower grades and students whose parents may never leave their home country.
While the International Baccalaureate Organization develops the program’s curricula and grants the IB diplomas, local school systems actually administer and teach the program. They pay the IBO annual fees to belong to the IB system and use the IB materials.
In Kentucky, four schools use the secondary level IB curriculum, Atherton High School and Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, Holmes High School in Covington, and Apollo High School in Owensboro. There are seven IB secondary schools in Indiana, five in Indianapolis alone. None use the middle and lower school programs.
About 500 schools in the U.S. have adopted the IB program, recognizing its educational rigor and depth, as well as the advantages its graduates have in gaining college admission. Many colleges apparently put IB graduates’ applications in the “A” pile, meaning they look at those folders first.
Unlike the College Board Advanced Placement program, taking the IB subject tests does not guarantee college credit or placement. Some critics apparently have somehow taken that difference to mean that colleges do not recognize the IB program at all, a gross misrepresentation.
IB critics distrust any infringement on local control of schools. Even Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act is suspect. Their language echoes that of other right-wing nationalistic groups like the John Birch Society and conservative Christians like Pat Robertson, who fear the rise of a godless, world government bent on destroying the U.S.A. and our “way of life.”
The anti-IB faction tends to focus on two issues. One is the IBO’s association with global ecology and human rights agreements and with UNESCO, the United Nation’s education agency. The other is its stated multicultural focus, which would be expected of a curriculum intended for use worldwide.
Both objections are rooted in the belief that IB is a flagrant takeover of local schools by an irreligious, left-wing foreign organization bent on creating a world educational system antithetical to Christianity and the “American way.”
Education for a Free Nation, based in Chaska, Minn., leads the fight against IB. Its officers and staff members have the expected right-wing Republican and conservative Christian associations. The Edwatch mission statement says:
EdWatch is committed to educating the public about the unprecedented movement of the U.S. workforce, the U.S. economy and the entire educational system toward a centrally planned and controlled federal system.
EdWatch is working with business leaders to alert them to the undermining of America’s free market economy and constitutional freedoms by the restructuring of education and the workforce.
EdWatch is working with parents toward a broad, knowledge-based education that meets the objectives of parents, schools, school boards and businesses.
Specifically, Edwatch objects to IB for the following reasons (I am paraphrasing here):
- IB is transformational education, not knowledge-based education.
- IB curriculum is pantheistic and multicultural and subscribes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which EdWatch associates with communism and marxism.
- Colleges do not accept IB courses as fulfilling undergraduate requirements for admission. This statement they base on a single Jan. 18, 2004, article in the right-wing rag, The Washington TImes, which I have not been able to access.
- “America’s foundational principles of national sovereignty, natural law and inalienable rights are at odds with the IB curriculum and are not taught. IBO explicitly states that its curriculum does not follow the political system of any particular nation, including the United States.” – a direct quote
In summary, IB is a transformational system of education which exists to promote internationalism. It is structured to change the attitudes, values, beliefs and behavior of its students to conform to the world government system. Dr. Ian Hill, Deputy Director of IBO, recently said that the primary goal of IBO is the promotion of “world citizenship.” –also a direct quote
OK, that’s pretty clear, then. IB is part of the New World Order and an educational fraud.
EdAction.org is the website of the political action committee of Education for a Free Nation. It repeats the same objections as EdWatch word for word, and in fact, shares the same mailing address and the same officers. EdAction also opposes the No Child Left Behind Act and other efforts to, as it says, permit state and federal government “takeover of education” at the local level.
Parents Against Bad Books in Schools is another anti-IB group, as evidenced in this press release on the EdWatch site. Here, PABBIS objects to specific books used in the IB curriculum in Florida and Fairfax, Va. Its complaints are similar to those in other book-challenge cases nationwide. EdWatch and PABBIS level the usual criticisms at IB in general, though.
Prefacing the release is the following remark:
Talking points include the fact that IB curriculum is set by an international body. Student tests are forwarded to Geneva, Switzerland for scoring, and a foreign data base collects and stores the personal, values-laden data on individual American students. IB is an outrageous violation of local control. It also teaches the value of global citizenship.
Believe it or not, these are the more reasonable objections to IB. Similar objections have been raised to national curricular reforms, including the “New Math” and reading programs that deemphasize phonics. Like other conservative education groups, the anti-IB crowd wants schools to return to using McGuffey readers, rote learning of arithmetic, and learning about the primacy of the U.S. in the world, pedagogical systems that were abandoned decades ago.
Their objection to relinquishing curricular control to a foreign organization is not a valid complaint, since the local schools actually administer the IB curriculum, using the international corpus of material as the foundation for local implementation. IB test scores are probably as secure as those kept by the Educational Testing Service in New Jersey, which administers the Advanced Placement program anti-IBers frequently suggest as a worthy replacement for IB.
Arguing that IB is not content-based is also far from accurate, since the IB program expects mastery on the level of the College Board AP program or the United Kingdom’s A-level program. It is by no means “touchy-feely” or developmental education.
Beyond the pedagogical and curricular issues, however, the anti-IB objections get really bizarre. The IBO is a partner with UNESCO in global education issues and programs,but UNESCO has no direct involvement with IBO’s curricular development or administration. UNESCO is a signatory to the Earth Charter, which means, the anti-IB crowd claims, so is the IBO. (In the 1950s, this situation was called “guilt by association.”) The connection with the Charter means the IB program fosters specific anti-American and anti-Christian beliefs and attitudes among its students, EdWatch says.
Consider this quote from the EdWatch site:
The Earth Charter is a broadly defined religious and political document that promotes the following positions:
1. Earth worship (pantheism)
2. Socialized medicine
3. World government
4. Abortion on-demand
5. Education for sustainability including spiritual education in New Age/pantheism
6. Adoption of the gay rights agenda
7. Elimination of the right to bear arms
Now the actual charter, encompassing all of six pages, says nothing of the kind. Even reading between the lines fails to turn up anything specifically promoting pantheism, abortion, homosexuality or banning the “right” to bear arms. But then again, I’m not a paranoid, right-wing wacko.
Here are the four main principles in the Charter, all of them far from sinister in nature:
- Respect Earth and life in all its diversity.
- Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion, and love.
- Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful.
- Secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations.
To secure these goals, the charter then goes on to list objectives of ecological integrity, social and economic justice, and democracy, nonviolence and peace. Some might be construed as socialistic and pro-animal rights, but since the charter is not legally binding on any signatory or government, the objections are either just smear tactics or the delusions of paranoid, right-wing wackos.
While now just a blip in the news, the anti-IB movement is likely to grow in strength, as other sympathetic, right-wing groups adopt its rhetoric and take up its cause. Witness this article from a typical conservative website.
Educators and parents who value their children’s education would do well to keep an eye out for these people. While IB is not widespread, the objections to it could be applied to any of a number of important educational programs. Intelligent design is not the only threat to a decent public school education.