Presenting another perspective on IB

Guest Column

Recently, three articles from a former teacher appeared in the Grand Canyon News regarding our International Baccalaureate PYP and MYP programs. It is important that our community is provided both accurate information and a balanced viewpoint.

To that end, I have identified 13 key statements presented in those columns and address each with more complete and accurate information. This column addresses the first six with the remaining seven to be discussed in a subsequent column.

Statement 1

"The newly adopted, philosophy-based, Primary Years and Middle Years programs at Grand Canyon School involve 'reorienting education towards sustainable development' and educating students for 'values, attitudes and beliefs,' even 'spiritual beliefs.' The basis for this new philosophy is the Earth Charter and UN Agenda 21Š"

Note that the sources quoted do not include IBO. The IB curricular framework encourages students to know and understand their own culture, then to learn about other cultures so they have an understanding of how other people live and what they believe. It also encourages students to ask questions about what is presented so they learn to differentiate between facts and opinions. IB does not require teachers to teach a particular philosophy and certainly does not question students' spiritual beliefs. It does encourage them to understand what they believe and why, as well as to contrast those beliefs with people who believe differently. Positive values and attitudes, similar to those taught in "Character Counts" programs are part of the curriculum. They include treating each other with respect and being honest, which should compliment what our parents are teaching their children at home. It is also worth noting that IBO is supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Education, which views its programs as consistent with the goals of No Child Left Behind.

Statement 2

"The IB Program has been aggressively marketed to schools as 'world class' education. However, this new educational program is based on philosophy, not contentŠthe 'Transformational Education' of the IB Program is all about changing society, not educating the student."

IB does not aggressively market their programs to schools because they don't have to. Their success is based on a proven track record of assisting schools in designing and implementing high quality instructional programs. IB provides the framework and documents that assist teachers in determining how to teach key concepts and information within core areas and to ensure that the same information is not simply repeated in different grade levels without taking it to a higher level. This is good educational practice and also what is required by the Arizona state standards. The Diploma Program is more rigid than Primary Years (PYP) or Middle Years (MYP) programs because IB must ensure consistency among Diploma programs for colleges to award credit to students who pass IB examinations. Grand Canyon is not currently implementing the Diploma program but has chosen to focus on the PYP and MYP programs. Providing a high-quality education to all students is the primary goal of every IB program.

It is true that providing people with education naturally impacts society. The three IB programs share a common philosophy, which is to help students develop an international perspective‹to become aware of and sensitive to the point of view of people in other parts of the world. Given our location and the fact that most of us would not be living here without international tourism, this philosophy seems very compatible with our community.

Statement 3

"Many teachers, administrators and school boards are sold on IB because there is much that is positive in the teaching methodology, the emphasis on central themes and varied assessment practices. However, all this can be implemented without becoming part of the Global School Board and entering into a contractual relationship with the UN."

The first part of this statement is absolutely true. The IB programs provide an instructional framework that includes the best practices in education. It is also true that the methodology can be implemented without IB. However, there is a distinct advantage in having an organization like IB work with us to ensure that the high quality instructional practices are continually implemented. Most schools will implement programs or provide teacher training but do not sustain either. As teachers leave, these programs and instructional strategies leave with them. This is what sets IB programs apart: it is not just a program, it is a framework. Once it becomes part of the way schools provide instruction, it ensures that teacher training and curriculum development is constant and continuous. Again, this is simply implementation of best educational practices, but with the support that will keep those practices going and evolving as needed to provide the best education we can for our students.

To the best of my knowledge and research, there is no "UN Global School Board." When I posed this question to Paul Campbell, Head of Outreach and Volunteer Services at IBO, he stated that he was not aware of such an entity, "but if it does exist, it's not something we are involved with." Likewise, there is no contractual relationship between IBO and the UN, or between Grand Canyon Unified School District and the UN. In fact, the relationship between Grand Canyon and the IBO is primarily driven by the school and not by IBO. The IBO provides training, support and monitoring to ensure that our programs are maintaining the required quality and structure, but IBO makes clear that "there is no encroachment on the school's management, governance and instruction." (Overview of IB in the United States, page 2, available at www.ibo.org.)

Statement 4

"America's foundational principles of national sovereignty, natural law and inalienable (sic) 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."

Most international organizations do not follow the political system of a single nation, or even of several nations combined. Given the number of countries in which IB programs are offered, it would be inappropriate for IB curricula to do so. The fact is that IB does not dictate how we teach American history or world history and strongly encourages schools and students to appreciate their own culture and history: The IB framework allows for a discussion of national sovereignty, natural law and unalienable rights, particularly in the context of our country's history. Our teachers are not in any way constrained from doing so.

Statement 5

"Pupils have the right to have and to hold their values and moral standards without direct or indirect manipulation through curricula, textbooks, audiovisual materials or assignmentsŠthis includes: anti-nationalistic, one-world government or humanistic or globalism curricula. In addition, the First Amendment has been interpreted by the courts with this simple set of criteria that the government (and by extension public schools) may not: •promote one religion or faith group over any other •Promote a religiously based life over a secularly based life •Promote a secular based life over a religiously based life.

The IB curriculum does not promote one religion or faith group over any other, nor does it promote secularism. All of IB's programs are designed to "develop the whole student, helping them to grow intellectually, socially, aesthetically and culturally. They provide a broad and balanced education that includes science and the humanities, language and mathematics, technology and the arts. The programs teach students to think critically and encourage them to draw connections between areas of knowledge and to use problem-solving techniques and concepts from many disciplines. They instill in students a sense of responsibility towards others and towards the environment.

Statement 6

"Grand Canyon School is now a part of the new UN Global School Board. Whose 'values, attitudes and beliefs,' even 'spiritual beliefs,' will be taught?"

Again, neither the IBO nor Grand Canyon Unified School District can verify that a UN Global School Board even exits and if it does, we are neither part of it nor governed by it. We do continue to be governed by our local governing board, as has been the case since at least 1916 when the county built the first government-funded school at the Canyon.

IB programs do not promote the teaching of specific spiritual beliefs, although students will likely approach some issues from their own perspective which may include spiritual beliefs. Those beliefs will be respected and students will be taught that issues can be discussed without trying to change another student's fundamental beliefs. Values such as honesty and respect are part of any positive school culture and Grand Canyon supports including these values in discussions with students. Parents provide the foundation for students' values, attitudes and beliefs, and this will not be changed by our IB programs.

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