The Bush administration has begun issuing grants to help spread a United Nations-sponsored school program that aims to become a “universal curriculum” for teaching global citizenship, peace studies and equality of world cultures.
The goal is to devise a curriculum to teach “a set of culturally neutral universal values to which all people aspire,” based on human rights, equality of the sexes and “open-mindedness to change and obligation to environmental protection and sustainable development.”
The U.S. Education Department has issued its first $1.2 million grant to implement the European-based International Baccalaureate (IB) program in middle schools that are to become “feeder schools” for the IB’s high school diploma program in low-income school districts.
“We are ever mindful of the lessons of September 11, one of which is that all future measures of a rigorous K-12 education must include a solid grounding in other cultures, other languages and other histories,” Education Secretary Rod Paige said a year ago as he announced new global-education initiatives in U.S. schools.
“In other words, we need to put the ‘world’ back into ‘world-class’ education,” he said.
Some educators are skeptical. An official in the Reagan administration says he was “a wee bit put off” by the program’s approach. An education adviser to the current Bush administration calls the approach “an educator fad,” and a retired official of the National Science Foundation says many of the peer reviewers in the program are “hard left-leaners.”
The Education Department grant will expand the IB program initially in Arizona, Massachusetts and New York.
The IB curriculum has been adopted by about 1,450 schools in 115 countries, including 502 schools in the United States. The program is in 55 primary, middle and secondary schools in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
U.S. schools that have committed to the European program spend an estimated $85 million to $100 million a year beyond regular school expenses for teacher salaries and other costs, according to government records. Fairfax County schools alone spend $1.8 million a year in additional costs for the IB program.
The major additional costs are teacher development and online courses, which the federal grant supports; IB fees; and expenses to send U.S. student tests and papers for scoring and evaluation by IB officials in Europe.
An IB regulation accepted by participating American schools requires that all tests and written papers of American students sent to Europe for grading or evaluation “become the absolute property” of the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) in Geneva.
The program was originally devised in the mid-1960s for children of globe-trotting European diplomats, who wanted a standard curriculum that would lead to admission for graduates to any top-flight university in the world.
“With the advent of international schools and their population of students from diverse cultures came a curriculum problem,” Ian Hill, deputy director-general of the IBO, told a 2001 conference convened by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.
“Teachers were concerned about the inappropriateness of national curricula for providing a truly global dimension and international experience in the academic program,” he told the conference titled “Education for Disarmament.”
So in 1996, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization formed a partnership with the IBO and International Schools Association, both based in Geneva, to create the universal “curriculum framework for peace education.”
Project participants “see education as the principal vehicle for developing and inculcating the habits of peace in school-age children,” UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education announced at the time.
Mr. Hill, a former school administrator from Tasmania, Australia, said the role of international education and culture, is to fulfill the vision of UNESCO’s constitution in its opening words: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”
“We cannot hide from one another and we can’t eliminate dissident groups. We have to learn to live together,” he said.
The Bush administration’s $1.2 million grant from the Education Department’s Advanced Placement Incentives Program (APIP) is to train teachers and set up six middle- and high-school “partnerships” to implement the IB curriculum for minority students.
Funding approval was recommended by “independent peer reviewers” under the APIP, spokeswoman Susan M. Aspey said. The proposal was ranked third out of 117 applications by outside academic experts “chosen specifically for their deep knowledge of the types of programs under review,” Miss Aspey said.
Syl McNinch Jr., a retired budget officer for the National Science Foundation, said many federal education peer-reviewers of grant applications “are hard left-leaners.”
“Unlike science and engineering, the realm of education often has to do with values and teaching the kids what to think on major issues,” Mr. McNinch said.
“That’s why you have to be very careful in granting federal money for these purposes, because it carries with it the power to implement those programs in schools across the nation, whether the taxpayers like it or not,” he said.
Think globally, not locally
The UNESCO program started with IBO in 1996 was initially called the International Education System Pilot Project (IESPP).
“[The project] was established with the ambitious aim of testing the feasibility of creating an international education system,” UNESCO announced in a September 1999 issue of its Educational Innovation and Information newsletter titled “A Culture of Peace.”
“Thus it would incidentally contribute to an improvement in peace education through a small-scale project involving schools from diverse cultures,” the newsletter said.
In a statement called “The Road to Peace,” UNESCO said: “Let it be a school of values, of attitudes, above all of practical action so that we learn to obtain justice through nonviolence and ensure that all human rights become a living reality for every person. …
“One major premise underlying the project is that peace education is not to be seen as a separate discipline within the curriculum.”
The IB curriculum, UNESCO said, would promote human rights and social justice; the need for “sustainable development”; and address population, health, environmental and immigration concerns.
“Changing patterns of national and international migration and political and social transformation have given cultural diversity a new importance,” the statement said.
Bradley W. Richardson, director of International Baccalaureate North America in New York City, said the program’s “ties to the United Nations and UNESCO are both historic and collegial.”
“We have an advisory status as [a nongovernment organization] with UNESCO, but that relationship does not extend to curriculum development or assessments.
“IB’s association with UNESCO should not signal anything sinister or anti-American,” Mr. Richardson said.
There are “a wide variety of opinions and experiences with IB,” he said. “Far from being a monolith, IB accommodates a diversity of thought, backgrounds, opinions and worldviews.”
IBO has a curriculum center in Cardiff, Wales, and directs its global curriculum and scores student tests and papers at its Geneva headquarters.
George Walker, IB’s director-general in Geneva, said in June that the program remains committed to changing children’s values so they think globally, rather than in parochial national terms from their own country’s viewpoint.
“International education offers people a state of mind; international-mindedness,” Mr. Walker said in a recent IBO background paper titled “Education weaves together the threads of peace.”
“We need an education that recognizes the realities of the 21st century. We’re living on a planet that is becoming exhausted. People everywhere aspire to the standards of living that people in the West take for granted, and at the same time, they want to maintain cultural differences that they feel make life worth living,” he said.
The IBO background paper said the curriculum is a multicultural approach that differs from traditional direct instruction of facts and historically learned knowledge.
“Most national education systems at the moment encourage students to seek the truth, memorize it, and reproduce it accurately. The real world is not this simple. International education has to reconcile this diversity with the unity of the human condition,’” the paper said.
Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and former assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration, said he was “a wee bit put off” by IB’s “one-worldism and fashionable leftism of their social studies courses, but they weren’t worse than what regular American curricula were peddling and the academic expectations were far more rigorous.”
Mr. Finn said the program is “inherently internationalist, so it’s not going to have any signs of patriotic Americanism — nor, let us hope, Francophilia or Sinophilia or any other such [patriotic expression].”
“The IBO programs promote a constructivist approach to learning,” the 1999 UNESCO document stated. “Teachers recognize that students bring prior knowledge to any learning situation and will come into contact with the curriculum through activities designed by the teacher. The students make sense of their experiences to construct meaning.”
As an example, fourth-grade teachers at Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, S.C., said they “set about fomenting an uprising in our classrooms” in order to allow their 9- and 10-year-old students to understand the dynamics of the American Revolution leading to independence in 1776.
Writing in May in “IB World,” the program’s international magazine, four teachers said they wanted the children “to experience personally the forces that lead to revolution, without shedding blood in the classroom, of course.”
The teachers said they circulated a fake official-sounding memorandum that told students their recesses were cut to make up for days that school had been canceled for snow. “The students were really angry, pointing out that the lost classes had not been their fault and that they had not been consulted about this,” the teachers wrote.
The students’ own proposal for Saturday classes instead of cutting recess was rejected. As discussions ensued, one student called on classmates to “take over the school,” and another student demanded that they “go on strike.”
“I’m not sure fighting for recess is that important, but fighting for freedom is,” one student said.
“This was the moment of truth,” the teachers wrote. “This was the connection that made the 18th-century American Revolution real to these 21st-century students.”
Constructivism gone awry
Diane Ravitch, education-research professor at New York University and an adviser to the Bush administration, says the constructivist approach is an educator fad that has gone awry.
“It became axiomatic among constructivists that knowledge is not transmitted directly from one knower to another, but is actively built up by the learner,” she wrote in her book, “Left Back: A Century of Battles over School Reform.”
“This meant that teachers must never lecture or ‘tell,’ that any memorization was intolerable, that instruction was a discredited form of behaviorism, and that up-to-date teachers viewed themselves as ‘facilitators’ of learning,” Mrs. Ravitch said.
“Surely a middle ground was needed, one where students could actively solve problems at the same time as they mastered basic skills and gained new knowledge under the guidance of capable teachers,” she added.
In IB’s two-year high school diploma program, pupils study three major subjects at the “higher level” and three minor subjects at the “standard level,” which must include mathematics, humanities, and at least one science and a foreign language.
Students also must take IB’s philosophical course on “Theory of Knowledge” and research and write a 4,000-word extended essay on a subject of their choice, similar to a university thesis, under the supervision of a teacher.
IB-diploma students also must complete 150 hours of extracurricular “Creativity, Action and Service,” which could include sports, music, art, drama, and volunteer service in the community.
English courses use a “Prescribed World Literature List” of 421 authors, including 57 from England and the United States. Critics, however, question the narrow selection.
Students must study three works of world literature, originally written in a different language than that of the students and normally read in translation, Mr. Hill, IBO deputy director-general, said.
“The purpose of world literature is to develop an appreciation of how different cultures influence and mold the experiences of life,” Mr. Hill said in his paper for the U.N. Education for Disarmament conference.
“Students will develop values, attitudes and respect for behavior and points of view different from their own without necessarily being in agreement,” he said.
Mr. Richardson said teachers are free to bring in literature outside the program’s prescribed list. He said teachers also can engage students in study and discussion of many contentious world issues.
“Those schools that wish to give an emphasis to environmental studies, to land-mine programs, or other world issues can do so, but within a program that is intellectually challenging for everyone,” he said.
When asked about the IB’s promotion of issues dealing with global peace and economic justice, Mr. Richardson denied that the program’s courses have a political or social-activist agenda.
“While the course requires that these ‘politically correct’ questions be engaged, it in no way (nor does the assessment) requires any particular response to the questions. A ‘conservative’ answer well done will always score higher than a ‘liberal’ answer poorly done.”
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