IB marketing: false advertising or elitist?

“Our programmes encourage both personal development and academic achievement challenging students to think critically, to ask the right questions and think across disciplines. An IB education also fosters diversity, curiosity and a healthy appetite for learning.”

This quote is displayed front and center in the “Programmes” section of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program’s official website. Positioned under a picture of a smiling multicultural friend group, the quote is sure to stand out to anyone researching the program. And at first glance, it seems like the ideal teaching method: a program that is sure to make you (or your child) a thoughtful and knowledgeable world leader of tomorrow. However, behind the optimistic marketing slogan is an inherent flaw. Why shouldn’t that quote describe every classroom in every school in the world? Shouldn’t all students learn to think critically? Shouldn’t all classrooms foster a diverse and positive learning environment? And if so, then why aren’t schools adopting these IB principles for all their students, instead of creating an “exclusive” program for a small group of “high achievers”?

Although the quote interestingly left it out, it is important to remember that IB is an extremely rigorous program. IB Diploma candidates must score well on multiple research papers, complete a required amount of volunteer hours, and take end of year examinations in order to be eligible for the Diploma. On top of that, students are required to complete large numbers of assignments on a daily basis as well as be active members of the school community. In other words, at CHS, the program is inherently geared towards students who have already achieved academic success in traditional schooling.

Yet, when one scrolls through the IB website, the academic rigor is not the focal point of the program. Instead, IB claims to create open-minded and compassionate individuals through progressive teaching methods and a global curriculum. This, intentionally or not, implies that characteristics such as compassion and empathy are only important for, or achievable by, students who are “gifted” academically. And that of course is ridiculous!

“We show empathy, compassion, and respect. We have a commitment to service, and we act to make a positive difference in the lives of others and in the world around us”

This quote is taken from the “Caring” section of the IB learner profile. The profile is a list of ten traits that all IB students are expected to embody. The traits include: Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-minded, Caring, Risk-takers, Balanced, and Reflective. Each trait is accompanied by descriptions of characteristics that almost everyone, no matter education level, or social status, strives to emulate. Therefore, it would seem to me, that if CHS teachers strive to embody these traits, as many of them surely do, then, they would teach the IB methods, principles and curriculum to every student in every class, not just to a small “elite” group. Presumably the rest of the teachers are capable of teaching these principles, and the rest of the students are capable of learning them. Therefore either the students who are not in IB classes are being deprived of an education that focuses on global connectivity and empathy, or these values are already being taught in all CHS classrooms, meaning that IB’s promise of unique intellectual and personal growth is simply a veil for harder classes and more homework.

“We thoughtfully consider the world and our own ideas and experience. We work to understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to support our learning and personal development.”

Taking inspiration from the “Reflective” section of the IB learner profile, I think it is important to acknowledge that CHS students are lucky to attend a school with a variety of class options and the IB program has opened up new opportunities for many students and allowed them to grow personally as well as academically. I just hope that the principles of “diversity, curiosity, and a healthy appetite for learning” are not goals of only the IB program, but are instead valued aspects of every classroom at CHS and around the world.

If the IB principles are truly valuable, then they should be taught in every classroom, not marketed as a luxury good restricted to a small elite.

As Dr. Jill Biden said, “One of the things that make community colleges so special is they do not pick and choose their students — they work with all students.”