Brainiacs

International Baccalaureate students learn that the best revenge for a nerd is a great education -- in elitism

The IB kids, in turn, sometimes catch a chill from the others. Glantz says the rest of the school tends to look at them as "those IB white kids," even though membership clearly crosses ethnic boundaries.

"They look at us as stuck-up, rich, snobby," says Glantz, who passed on a private girls' school education at Xavier to come here. "But that's just the group they put us in. Once you get to know us, we're not like that at all."

The school deliberately schedules lunch for the IB-ers at the same time the mainstreamers eat (not all IB schools do) to encourage interaction between the two factions. "We want that trickle-down effect," says Craig Pletenick, community relations coordinator at North. "We want the smart kids getting together and collaborating and assimilating with the general student population."

Mark Poutenis
The future's so bright: North High students and teachers smile through the stress.
The future's so bright: North High students and teachers smile through the stress.

You don't have to be particularly smart to figure out that that rarely happens.


Slamming the school your IB program's in -- and the mainstream students who dominate it -- is a popular pastime of International Baccalaureate students around the world. At the Web site IBscrewed.net, where stressed-out students in IB programs worldwide vent their frustrations and share their study tips, IB-ers often rant about the "ghetto" learning facilities where their esteemed program is offered.

"In my three years at being at North Miami Senior High, I've always wondered why such a crappy school gets a program like IB," writes one Florida teen. "Why should a program that prepares you for college be given to a hellhole like NMSH? There are a lot of people, including myself, who would leave that school in a second if that program weren't there. It's already a dying school, so why waste the program on it?"

Other submitters get into roasting the mainstream kids at their school, which appears to be a bit of a sport for some. "That's the one reason I'm still here," admits one IB brainiac on the Web site. "Superiority. The fact that I can walk down the hall and go, I'm smarter than you, you, you, you, waaaayyy smarter than you, you, you, and you, too, retard.' That keeps me going. That, and Mountain Dew. Both are necessary parts of IB: caffeine, and blatant badmouthing."

None of the IB students at North High come off quite as openly critical of their fellow students, or even of their outdated 66-year-old institution, built when its campus on 12th Street and Thomas was still considered north Phoenix. Still, there's a focus on material success among IB students that sometimes borders on a misplaced snobbism -- and occasionally even a streak of prejudice against the kids from the lower-income families in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.

"I have no interest in learning Spanish," says a girl on her way to an IB French class in the Liberal Arts building, even though a lot more of the girls she passes in the hallway are speaking Spanish than French. "It's the language of poverty. I mean, look at all the Spanish-speaking countries. Actually, I'd really like to learn Japanese."

Paul Lowes, a social studies teacher at North who instructs both IB and non-IB students, is concerned some of his high-minded IB kids devalue the laborer's work ethic built in to the heritage of the Hispanic culture around them, and focuses many of his lessons on Mexican and immigration history, "material too rarely taught in American secondary schools," he says.

Few of the IB kids show any signs of discrimination based on race. But the IB kids definitely show a bias against underachievers, or any students who don't have their eyes on the prize of a prestigious career and "wealthiness," a word that comes up on several students' lists of goals. "The one thing that separates us is we all have a higher common goal than the mainstream kids," says Jack Hannallah, a senior at North Canyon who's already banking on a career in medical technology. "We're striving to make the money, to get out there and get the higher-paying jobs when we graduate college. Not just to have as much fun as we can right now."

Problem is, most of the students who aren't in IB, especially at North, are Hispanic or black, reflective of a troubling national statistic: Together, these groups account for nearly one-third of the general population for this age group, yet students from these groups make up only 4 percent of the top SAT scorers.

After a while, the cultures of the non-IB groups begin to get mixed in with the things IB-ers consider beneath their intelligence. When Jacob and friends are asked what kinds of music they listen to, Sotelo quips, "Rap -- hard-core rap," and the others crack up.

"No, it's a lot of little nerdy white-boy bands," says Jacob Verburg. "You know, brainy rock."


In Michael Cady's third-period Theory of Knowledge class at North High, many of the students have brought in newspaper clippings today containing articles they feel pertain to ToK, the centerpiece course of the IB curriculum that deals with critical thinking, philosophy and, in the burly, bearded professor's own curious words, "how you know what you know."

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2 comments
annmarie.leonard
annmarie.leonard

What on earth was the point of this article?
It seems like an adult journalist set out to make smart kids who work hard look bad.
My my, what investigative journalism!

dreamtheater
dreamtheater

As an alumni of the IB program at North, I can say that at least now, this isn't really how things are. I mean, yes, there will always be a few jerks in the crowd, and some of my friends last year were snobs, but most of us just cared more about school.

 

Plus, the main reason we never reach out of the IB group is because, like many people, we don't want to break out of our group of friends. And we make most of our friends in our classes.

 
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