“IB for All:” Globalization and the Impact of International Education

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by Kevin Sullivan

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I come from a small town in Cape Cod, Massachusetts – so small in fact that we only have one traffic light, and it only flashes yellow.  In the summertime, however, the population swells up like a pufferfish to over five times its normal size.   This ebb and flow of people from different parts of America and the world has imbued Cape Cod with a worldliness that most small towns in America don’t have.  A outward- looking world view is probably in the nature of a place founded by people in search of utopia and made famous by tales of tall ships circling the globe.  I don’t think people in small towns in Iowa grow up dreaming about catching the great white whale.

I also come form a long line of teachers on both sides of the family.  Family reunions take on the tone and pitch of a teachers conference – but with better food.  The subject of education and debates about what’s working in our schools and what’s not swirls in the air over family dinners.  The big story this year was about how one of the Cape’s richest towns – the Izod and country club crowd – had so few young kids anymore that it was forced to merge with the school district of their ethnically-mixed, working-class neighbours.   It was encouraging to see an experiment in public education as a social leveller when so many schools today seem to only reinforce privilege and exclusion.  Still, you had to feel for the poor Izod kids on the first day of school.

Other local ed news came from my step-mother, who tudors both gifted and troubled kids – sometimes one and the same.  Her latest clients were definitely of the gifted sort – and troubled only because they were working so hard to master the new school’s curriculum.  This school, too, was a kind of social experiment – one with global implications rooted in the uniquely worldly local culture of Cape Cod.

“IB for All” is the motto of the Sturgis School in Hyannis – and they really mean it. “Sturgis challenges conventional wisdom by offering students a unique “IB for All” experience in which all courses for grades 11-12 are IB.” It is open to all families who live in the district, regardless of need or ability, and selection is through a first-come-first-serve lottery system.  The school started in 2004 out of a storefront on struggling Main St in downtown Hyannis – only a few miles away from the famed Kennedy compound, but economically and socially in a different parallel universe.  Sturgis now ranks among the top public schools in Massachusetts and has a long waiting list to get in every year.

What struck me about the Sturgis success story is the contrast with my own experience as the parent of a child in an IB international school.  For the most part, those of us who send our kids to international schools in Asia take for granted that students should be educated to be global citizens and have an impact on the world.  Of course there’s a huge assumption of class privilege behind these expectations – we think nothing of flying off for a weekend to explore Bangkok or Bali, and our kids are enriched immeasurably by these experiences.

Most Sturgis families do not have the same economic privilege, yet they share the same aspirations for their kids, and the same belief that IB is a means to success in a globally connected and competitive world.  That says a lot about globalization as a cultural force that can unite people’s hopes for their children across social and physical geographies.  This is perhaps the virtuous part of the otherwise pretty vicious cycle of economic globalization, which is creating deep and ever-widening inequalities around the world.  So let a hundred and a thousand Sturgis’s bloom – we need many more of them.

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