Let’s Talk About Education Tuesday: Episode 1

Tiny chickens. Laying eggs. In my brain. (In layman’s terms, I’ve got a stuffy nose.) So, my faithful readers, I must apologize for the frequency (or lack thereof) of my posts. You see, I keep having really interesting conversations with the most excellent people, resulting in really interesting thoughts, but they never feel finished enough to share with you, so they languish, untranslated and hopeless, in my head. But no more! I have resolved to put a stop to this intellectual hoarding, so from this day forth, I will be peppering your inboxes with a lot of half-baked but potentially intriguing ideas. Look forward to it.

We’ll be starting with a topic that I could yammer on about for ages: education. (This will likely be a regular feature–as captivating as Keeping Up With The Kardashians, I assure you.) Today’s target (for lack of a better word) is the International Baccalaureate programme, which I admire in many ways but am perpetually frustrated by in others. The idea is to create engaged, well-rounded “life-long learners” who will be equipped to make the world a more sustainable and peaceful place, and the IB Organisation has devised a curriculum it believes will do just that. It consists of 6 main subject areas (native language, foreign language, social science, natural science, mathematics, and the arts) which a student studies for 1-2 years and is evaluated in by means of an exam and internal assessments, a philosophy course (Theory of Knowledge, affectionately/derisively referred to as ToK), an Extended Essay (a bit like a thesis), and a quota of hours devoted to creativity, action, and service. Perfect recipe for a balanced student!

Well, not quite. See, the thing is that students have the option of foregoing art in exchange for a second natural or social science. I completely understand that not everyone is artistically talented, but it’s really not fair to de-value art this way. Not everyone is predisposed to be successful in math, or science, or languages, either. I’ve personally been quite frustrated with this system, since I’m unhealthily enthusiastic about basically every other subject besides natural science (even Theory of Knowledge, which every other IB student I’ve met has despised). I’d be much happier doubling up on languages than dragging myself through a science course that doesn’t interest me at all, but the IB doesn’t cater to that sort of learner.

And this is where I get a bit conflicted. I’ve got this idea in my head that people should be well-rounded, and general ed requirements somehow allow people more freedom than if they were told to choose their own course load (we’ll be touching on this idea of boundaries as a path to liberation in a future post, I’m sure), but if asked to defend this view, I’d be speechless. Optimist that I am, I feel that students would be a lot more engaged in school if they found something in their courses that really lit them up mentally or seemed relevant, but there’s got to be value in structure and requirements. Right? Maybe? Thoughts?


6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Education Tuesday: Episode 1

  1. You never tackle the easy issues do you? Educational ‘experts’ have been debating this for years. Having come from a regimented system (I was tracked from kindergarten on and was well served by it) – I can’t help but believe that the only way you get a well-rounded thinker is to expose students to the ways of thinking that each discipline requires (and, along the way, the facts as well). To put it in terms of food (and I almost always will find a way to put it in terms of food) – you probably need to taste spinach several times along the way as you grow up – because you never really know when you’ll say “Hey, now I get spinach.” Having said that, there will eventually come a time when you’ll be ready to stop “thinking around” and really dive into one subject. Personally, I think that’s probably right around when you’re forced to declare a major in college, but I could be talked out that position. Whatever you do, be sure that you preserve (and nurture) the thing that makes you you and that could be totally unrelated to what you choose to do. (This from someone who put aside art for almost 2 decades and now am wondering “what was I thinking?”) Oh, well, at least I had cooking!

    • I always love reading your responses. Spinach is a most excellent analogy! And I do think that getting students familiar with the ways of thinking does more to equip them for real-world academics (and other real-world stuff) than the facts (though those are useful every once in a while). Sort of like critical thinking vs. rote memorization. You’d enjoy my ToK class, I think. P.S. My Arabic teacher, who is Moroccan, is a huge fan of American high schools and colleges because of the freedom they allow you in picking a focus–more on that in next week’s episode 😉

  2. As someone who has finished her IB Diploma and jumped right into college, I can say that all six areas AND ToK have been a huge asset. Even natural science, a subject I despised and dreaded. Even though I loathed IB Chemistry, I’m now on my second honors 300-level biology course, which used a surprising amount of chemistry knowledge. Suddenly, science is fascinating to me. Most of my classmates never took an AP science and none of them took any IB-they picked this class to fulfill honors college requirements or gen Ed courses without needed a lab-based course- and it shows. People get so lost in the science that they totally miss the beauty of our world. So even if IB’s system is getting you down, participating in all 6 areas is beneficial. EVEN ART, YOU HEAR ME IB? ART IS NOT REPLACEABLE!!! I don’t think they should allow substitutions in any of the six areas. And I’m not just saying that because 2 years of IB equalled 2 semesters of college for me…
    P.S. Mer, you should put stuff on your head. You’ll feel better. NF!!

    • Haha, Laura, you make me so happy 😀 Completely agreed on not allowing substitutions. I am, in fact, hoping to develop a better attitude towards science by the time I get to college. I’ll just trust you on the benefits of that 😉


    Wait…so you can forgo an art if you take two natural sciences? I’m taking two natural sciences, but I still have to take an art…oh, wait, maybe that’s because I’m not taking a social science…

    ARGH. I don’t know. All I know is that I’m not a good enough dancer to be doing IB dance….

    BUT. Anyway. I totes like ToK. Partially cause I have Tanner and she’s cool.

    Also, you said you had a question about Biology for me and you texted me, and then I didn’t check my phone and then I got sick so I didn’t see you so if you still need help on that subject, I can *try* to help tomorrow.

    I love you with all my abusive heart and soul.

    • Yeah, it’s the social science thing. I forget the details of it, but I think enviro counts as a social science (why? Who knows.) and that way you’re technically getting all six subject areas. The bio thing is no longer relevant, but thanks anyway 🙂 Much love.

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