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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 05/18/2010

Protesters call IB program un-American. Is it?

By Valerie Strauss

Not for the first time we have protesters -- this time in Idaho -- trying to get the International Baccalaureate program tossed out of schools because, they say, it is, anti-American.

Usually the most serious threat to the IB is its sort-of rival, the Advanced Placement program.

But allegations that the international education program is not only anti-American but also Marxist and anti-Christian have led to controversies in recent years in several states, including Utah, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The program isn’t any of the things the protesters say it is. IB is a rigorous program for students ages 3 to 19, now in about 3,000 schools, in 139 countries, that teaches students to understand issues from an international perspective.

That focus and multicultural themes in the program have led to the anti-American charges by some opponents, while others say it is socialist because the International Baccalaureate Organization signed the Earth Charter, a collection of global principles created in France in 2000.

A protester, Luke Sommer, was quoted in the Coeur d'Alene Press in Idaho that he worries that the IB program aims to undermine American values.

"They want to change the way your child thinks, not feed your child’s mind with information, and information about our history, heritage and why we believe what we believe," Sommer said.

The mindset that leads to these protests is not entirely unlike the fear in Arizona that led to the passing of a new law that attempts to restrict what can be taught in ethnic studies programs.

The immediate target of the law was an ethnic studies program in the Tucson Unified School District that offers specialized courses in African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that focus on history and literature.

Foes of the program said that minority students in the program were being taught “ethnic chauvinism” and to resent whites; the law lists a series of things no ethnic study program can do in Arizona, including promoting resentment toward a race or class of people or promoting the overthrow of the U.S. government. The program’s directors said it does nothing of the sort.

The real issue here is how American history is taught in our schools and through what eyes the narrative should be told. Through the eyes of the oppressed? The victors? Men? Women? The religious? There are legitimate debates about these issues.

But the folks who are protesting the IB program, and those who want to restrict ethnic studies, have the wrong targets. They would be better off putting their energy toward ensuring that public schools aren’t obsessing so much with standardized tests in math and reading that teachers don’t have time to teach history.

For the record, former President Bush pushed for the expansion of Advanced Placement and IB programs. He didn’t see anything anti-American in them.

And then there is this: My esteemed colleague, Jay Mathews, who nobody would call a screaming liberal, recently wrote a post on his blog Class Struggle with this headline: “AP vs. IB--choosing sides.”

Jay wrote that if he had to choose which program is “better,” he would lean toward IB, because:

I think IB is slightly better than AP because the exams demand more writing, having no multiple choice questions as AP exams do, and because the IB program includes a 4,000-word essay requirement that AP lacks. Then again, it is easier to get college credit for good AP exam scores because university faculties have been slow to realize that IB is as good as AP. But those professors are coming around, and IB students eventually get their way.

I write this not to say that you should agree with Jay about which one is “better.”

It is, however, to show where the real lines should be drawn on the IB program debate.

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By Valerie Strauss  | May 18, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  AP,IB,honors, History  | Tags:  IB protesters, arizona ethnic studies, arizona law and immigrants, ethnic studies law, history, international baccalaureate, law restricting ethnic studies  
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This debate reminds me of "Palin's America" the fact is that most of us think of America as the community and world view that we feel most comfortable within. Much of the intermountain West is being transformed by many forces- immigration not just from Mexico and Central America but also by wealthy Americans coming and buying large tracks of scenic land, many of them limousine liberals and not very interested in the local communities. This is disorienting for a lot of these folks, IB is an easy target with lots of buzz words for communities that are seeing both their world and world view being challenged by many forces. Most of us living in the DC Metro area would not be so comfortable if rural norms all the sudden were how school were being run. You may be rightly pointing out "how different could that be?" but it is though small shifts that often catch people and cause them to protest. The same is happening here, but the changes are different, think about the school closure debate and how much of it centered around issues of gentrification.

Posted by: Brooklander | May 18, 2010 7:34 AM | Report abuse

IB is unAmerican in that it encourages thinking and learning and an acknowledgement of the world outside America. Face it, from the earliest days, large segments of this country have been suspicious of any sign of intelligence.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 18, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

What is -0- at the end for?

Posted by: subwayguy | May 18, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

"For the record, former President Bush pushed for the expansion of Advanced Placement and IB programs. He didn’t see anything anti-American in them."
Are you talking about George W. Bush? The clueless Yale legacy who has problems with basic English grammer? The same George W. Bush who drove the USA into the deepest economic hole since the Great Depression?

Seriously -- if you are going to use something that a former president said to support your article, please use one of the presidents who has the respect of his countrymen.

Posted by: postisarag | May 18, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

There are many problems why I have a problem with the IB program. But the "un-american" issue is not one of them.

However, we can scoff from our ivory tower geographic area here since we are a relatively multi-national society. Idaho isn't -- our concept of being american is much different from theirs. I would venture to say their concept is much closer to that of the founding fathers than ours, for better or worse. But it is different and we should respect that.

The "un-american" issue in my mind is one that merely you'll never win. Say you get it out of your high school. Your kids just run into it in college anyway. Besides, half the stuff the kids are learning in high school (and probably three quarters of the stuff in advanced programs) could be considered "un-american" merely because students are often asked to argue on both sides of a topic (with the exception of some social issues, where you can't be against certain "rights"). Even when its not in the curriculum, teachers often put their liberal (as in "liberal arts") spin on the topics. So, its hard to monitor.

IB also has the philosophy course requirement "theory of Knowledge" which encourages kids to question all sorts of "traditional" lines of thought. Neat class. But combine that with your "overtly un-American" classes, and you've got a recipe for controversy.

In the end, I don't understand why school systems keep pushing IB. It doesn't align well the college credit system (so it disadvantages students who might take AP classes). It often puts the non-IB students at a school at a disadvantage (since the school has commitments to offer certain IB courses to students even when the class size would be small or miniscule. The administrators will argue with this, but when you see that in Fairfax County, often certain classes have less than 10 take a test in the whole county, how big could the class be?). And it costs much more to administer than the AP program. In a transient community (I realize Idaho might not be transient. But Fairfax County is.), why would a system offer a program that is highly unlikely to be offered in another area? Since the IB HL courses last two years, you often get screwed if you move into or out of an IB-only school district.

It all just doesn't make sense. But for those who complain about the un-american part of IB, I think they could easily find other reasons to sound the alarm.

Posted by: MG14 | May 18, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

So, Jay has to have his comrade in arms at WAPO defend the UNESCO scam of an organization called IBO? If you don't know who I am, ask Jay. Mr. & Mrs. Koler who are leading the anti-IB movement in Coeur d'Alene Idaho, are intelligent, well-spoken, American taxpayers and parents of 3. In fact, Mr. Koler is an attorney. You don't even bother to educate yourself as to the crux of the IB issue in Coeur d'Alene which involves the IB PYP and the forcing of students to be enrolled in IB at Hayden Meadows if it is their neighborhood school. The Kolers have removed their children from the school and are currently homeschooling them.

What arrogance for you to tell those of us who oppose IB "we have the wrong targets". Our target is IBO and we have the documentation to prove what a hypocritical, scam of an organization it is. I'll go a step further and state that IBO is not only anti-American, it is anti ANY country it infects with its poisonous "educational" program(mes) as its agenda is one world government. Just this past week I received letters from Thailand and Sri Lanka with stories about how IB has ruined childrens lives. Did you know IBO refused to reschedule the IB finals for an IB school in Bangkok which sits smack in the middle of the violent riots? Don't tell me we don't know who our target is. It is time for American public schools in particular to stop being duped by this globalist socialist organization that cares only about lining the pockets of its executives and which couldn't give a darn about its students safety or actual achievements. When an organization can only claim the Christmas Day Underwear Bomber as one of its most famous IB alumni, I think that's a pretty sorry testament to the global quality of this international fraud.

Posted by: lisamc31 | May 18, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah. You owe me $1 for using the word "rigorous" to describe IB. Ask Jay. It's a rule. ;-)

You also might want to disclose that Jay's book Supertest was co-authored by IBO's Deputy Director General and published by an IBO Board member. Oh yeah, and that he is one of IBO's keynote speakers at their annual conference at the Fountainbleu in Miami, in July. Or that his Newsweek Best High School's List is used as PR propaganda by IB schools across the land. You know, in the name of WAPO being "fair and balanced" media. (cough, cough)

Posted by: lisamc31 | May 18, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Nice to see lisamc31 weigh in on this. If one is defined by their opponents, I am more than pleased to stand opposite her.

The original definition of Luddite referred to women destroying machines in an atttempt to impede progress. That definition has evolved since the 1830s, and now quite comfortably encompasses lisamc31. I'm sure it's a badge she'll wear with pride. Certainly she's worked hard to earn it.

IB is a marvelous program. My older child went through the full IB program and I cannot conceive of her getting a better public education. Nor how she could have been better prepared for college and life. I only wish the program had been in my high school.

People who oppose IB are either not thinking clearly, don't have adequate information or have been duped. It may or may not be better than AP (I think it is, and have yet to meet a student who - absent the college credit issue - doesn't wish they'd had IB rather than AP), but the point is that it's a solid program choice for American schools.

Posted by: LoveIB | May 18, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

How boring. Another IB zealot who can't rebut the facts and must resort to name-calling.

Personally, I prefer Constitutional Conservative. Actually, someone in another forum called me Vexing Spirit. I quite like that. Vexy for short. ;-)

As to the alleged "progress" you support, it is indeed the IB/Progressive agenda which is totally regressive in nature.

Yes, LoveIB. I stand proudly as one of your opponents. We will take back this country and our schools from misguided believers of IBO rodomontade and bought journalists like Jay Mathews.

Posted by: lisamc31 | May 18, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Did LoveIB really say he/she had, "yet to meet a student who - absent the college credit issue - doesn't wish they'd had IB rather than AP?" LoveIB, you have to be kidding. Not only are AP students not wishing that, but many IB students are wishing they had never taken IB and it isn't because it is too rigorous. Go on Youtube and see for yourself --IB students have posted lengthy videos bashing the program(me) and its mother organization.
As for the claim that Jay makes through his proxy that IB exams are better because there is more writing, at least 50% of the AP exam requires writing.
But all of this is pure back and forth rubbish. Bottom line-Good teacher without IB or AP can write and deliver excellent courses and prepare their students for college. Look at the best private schools in the country and notice how few have IB. These schools know what they should be concentrating on--good teaching practice and the best teachers that can be hired. Public schools, hamstrung by unions and lack of incentive (no competition), are motivated by all the wrong things--like the possibility of getting their school listed in Jay's top ten. Time to call it what it is: a major league scam and one with a hidden agenda at that.
This is just the kind of reporting that has the Washington Post and its ilk on the skids in this country. Makes me sick.

Posted by: PDonlon | May 18, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

One more thing. I am glad LoveIB's older child enjoyed her IB classes. I am sure he/she would have also enjoyed a well constructed and challenging course delivered by an excellent teacher. Those exist without IB....and considering the money teachers are paid in some districts, they should be required to be teaching in this manner in all their classes. IB did not invent rigorous, nor did they invent critical thinking, or inquiry based learning. There are lousy IB courses and their are good ones. Same as with any other all depends on the teacher especially in the primary and middle years where there is virtually no curriculum and no test to measure achievement. It is a scam, scam, scam.

Posted by: PDonlon | May 18, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

What exactly is the scam? Is everything you disagree with a sinister plot for world domination? Really?

Posted by: redwoodcyclist | May 18, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse


From your handle, is it safe to guess that your are a treehugging Californian who drinks from Nancy Pelosi's poisoned vinyard? If that is indeed your mindset, attempting to point out the more specific details of IBO's scam is far beyond your ability to cognitively digest. ;-)

Posted by: lisamc31 | May 18, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

That's your response?

OK I get it now.

Don't sweat the "specific details of IBO's scam".

Wait, what are the specific details? Use small words, I may understand. You are so smart, please educate me.

Have never hugged a tree, nor have I consumed any of Speaker Pelosi's wine.

Posted by: redwoodcyclist | May 18, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Redwood--a scam is defined as a fraudulent scheme. In this case it is my position that IBO claims to be rigorous, inquiry based, superior curriculum. In fact they do not supply curriculum but rather only guidelines. The teachers who are actually doing the teaching are the ones who either provide good instruction or not. IBO does require training, however thier pedogogy is no different from what is being taught in good education schools around the country. They do not have any proprietary claim on these methods. IBO is just a bunch of marketeers who have been able to convince many that they are the best and even only answer to good education. Unfortunately we are wasting a lot of money paying them for their label. We could do better by using that money elsewhere.

Posted by: PDonlon | May 18, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Redwood: a scam is a fraudulent scheme. In this case what I mean is that IBO markets IB as a rigorous curriculum. In fact especially in the lower grades, they supply no curriculum....only guidelines. My point is that it is a waste of money. IB does not have proprietary rights to inquiry based learning or critical thinking or even teaching global awareness. My point is we have teachers we are paying (especially in some districts) well enough to expect them to develop and deliver highly professional lessons...every day. IBO does not ensure that they do so....they just give the programs a label. By doing so, there is actually a false sense of security (again especially in the lower years) that the education is a superior one.
In addition, by basing our judgement about success or failure of certain schools on Jay Matthews criteria, we encourage districts to follow that criteria, often at the expense of better programs more suited to the needs of the district. I question Mr, Matthews motives as well as his methodology.
And just for the record, I am a teacher.

Posted by: PDonlon | May 18, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

I was an IB student recently. I have my own issues with IB, but I would not list it being "un-American" as one of them. I never once got a vague hint of un-Americanism out of any of my classes. In any of the columns I have read on here purporting it to be un-American, I have yet to read a concrete example of what we were supposed to have learned that was un-American, just vague phrases like "an international perspective". Please enlighten me- is it reading books in English class that were originally written in another language? Is it learning about non-western music (ever heard of Tuvan throat singing, or Indonesian Gamylans? IB Music taught me about that)? I did IB, and I feel pretty darn American.

Posted by: sarahee | May 19, 2010 12:38 AM | Report abuse

IB is about making students believe they are global citizens under the one-world government. Period. If you believe that the US should retain national sovereignty under the Constitution, this program is not for you.

If you want rigor, this program is a scam.
Everything good said about it originated from the program promoters themselves. It has no track record and colleges laugh at it.

The NEA said this in 1946:
"In the struggle to establish an adequate world government, the teacher has many parts to play... He can do much to prepare the hearts and minds of children for global understanding and cooperation... At the very top of all the agencies which will assure the coming of world government must stand the school, the teacher, and the organized profession." -- National Education Association Journal, 1946

Now the UN is wanting to take your tax dollars and be allowed to spread their philosophy of one world government under their rule. Is this what you want for your country? If so, you and I will lose our freedom.

Posted by: username | May 19, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

This whole issue is laughable. The people against IB have no clue. I teach overseas in an IB school and believe it is the kind of system that can create the kind of people the world needs now... more than ever. If that is "un-American" - then fantastic!

Travel and meet some other cultures. I am really disgusted how easily these "sound bites" are believed. If a cheap Fox news report is the most critical thinking a person does in a day...then IB should be 100% supported. Get your heads in the game of saving this planet.

Posted by: jennieteacher | May 19, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Laugh away, jennieteacher. My head is in the game of saving this country from radical-environmental socialists like you who want to apologize to every tinpot dictator on the planet for America's exceptionalism. Why don't you go teach at the IB school in Bangkok where students had to go through a literal war zone to take their IB exams because IBO wouldn't reschedule them. I'd laugh at your naivete, but it's really just too sad.

Posted by: lisamc31 | May 19, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

It is based on a lot of research and personal experience with IB and being asked to commit to the IBO mission, which is rooted in the MDG/UDHR and international government. This is easily looked up. In fact you can start here:

As for Jay Matthews, he can't take the heat and is now deleting comments from any teachers who are exposing IB.

OH by the way, the statement I was asked to sign, saying I supported the mission of world government, was done YEARS AGO ----------- under Goals 2000.

Posted by: username | May 21, 2010 3:38 AM | Report abuse

Islamist31 describes the IBO as being an

"organization that cares only about lining the pockets of its executives and which couldn't give a darn about its students safety or actual achievements."

That sounds pretty American to me!!

Posted by: bkcarolina | May 24, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I have taught three IB subjects in international schools and two AP subjects in the USA. IB doesn't begin to stand up to AP--it's vague, confusing, incomplete, unclear, pretentious. When a student performs well on an AP test, he's showing real mastery of material. When a student performs well on an IB test, he's showing that he's a naturally good writer or that he's learned a few buzzwords that he knew the test would ask for.

Posted by: bkcarolina | May 24, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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