No matter the time period in society, we’ve wanted to quantify intelligence. To pigeonhole people into being a “smart kid” or a “dumb kid”. As long as they have existed, higher levels of academic accomplishment and the label of ‘intelligent’ have existed hand-in-hand. However, the shameful thing about this is that this label is VERY exclusive, especially to minorities. One of the most common ways I’ve seen this bias manifest itself in modern schools is the attitude of the International Baccalaureate (IB) to minority students. While I cannot speak for the entirety of the IB program, I can share my experiences.
There’s a terrible danger in teaching advanced-level courses. It is, In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the danger of the single story. The history of western academia is paved with the thoughts and perspectives of white men, and this is very much reflected in modern class settings.
Take, for example, my IB Sports, Exercise, and Health Sciences class. In the class textbook, there was a discussion question that read “How would your routine be different 200 years ago.” The premise of this question was to have students consider the work put into getting different kinds of nutrients in the past versus present-day, and how much easier it would be to burn off calories during that period.
However, when me and my friend flipped to this page in our books, we looked at each other and near simultaneously said “well, we’d be picking cotton.”
While I understand that the intention of the question, the fact that it was made on the premise that every student’s ancestry fell in line with Little House On The Prarie rather than Roots is inexcusable. Questions like this promote the idea that white is the basis, and that premise in turn promotes the idea that education is a white world.
The most ironic thing about this situation, though, is that the same teacher who posed this question played that same Chimamanda Adichie quote.
Not only does IB not acknowledge that minority students are taking their courses, but they also misappropriate the concept of being forward thinking. This point of contention is borne out of two instances in an IB English SL course. Specifically, the attitudes towards the books “Woman at Point Zero” and “Their Eyes were Watching God”. Both of these books depict harrowing situations for the protagonists,Whenever situations like this are depicted in literature, it’s important to distinguish the cultural norms from poor behavior. However, we did not establish these bases for either book. This allowed for many instances during class discussions of my classmates saying “That’s just how it is in their culture” whenever something negative came up in the book. Having the class misconstrue heinous acts as standards of a foreign culture did not sit well with me, so I approached the teacher and asked if she could educate the class in how to make those distinctions. They responded saying it was irritating her too, and so to her credit, she addressed it once in class. Once. And then the familiar behavior of negative expectations of people different from us continued.
One of the most saddest moments I’ve experienced in IB is asking other students in the program how they felt about how race is handled. When asking other students about how they felt about the lack of diversity in the program and why they think it might be, I got a variety of answers. While almost all students admitted the issue existed, an alarming number of them then tried to find excuses for it. These excuses ranged from “that’s just the way it is” to “well, it’s just not meant for them.” Both of which disgust me, especially the latter. Once again, enforcing the idea that minorities are just not meant for this higher form of education.
Ben Chappell is a senior at St. Louis Park High School. He loves music and writing. He plays the saxophone. He plans to attend Arizona State University, majoring in bio-science this fall.