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

A boy with short, dark hair and brainy black spectacles reads an article from the Smithsonian magazine detailing the plight of an MRI evolutionist disqualified for the Nobel Prize, and a girl in a black wool cap leads a discussion about sociopathic tendencies as applied to Saddam Hussein.

But the student interplay finally becomes lively when a few wry wiseacres get into a heated debate over a newspaper item concerning a drug-sniffing police dog charged with racial profiling.

"Aren't dogs supposed to be colorblind?" asks a boy in a floppy denim hat.

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.

"I don't know. Maybe dogs can be trained to be racist," says a girl in a scarf and black oval-framed glasses.

"ToK is a weird class," says Ian Latchmansingh, an IB graduate from a Florida high school whose all-IB rock band, Captain Angry and the Bad Moods, actually recorded a comically scathing song about the class called "I Hate ToK," a popular download among some North IB students.

"It usually breaks down to three or four kids arguing across the room about things like, If you exist, then do you blink?'" he says. "It can get bitter at times, but most IB kids get off on that. Because you can take someone's belief and then tear it apart mercilessly with logic. It's great fun, but sometimes you forget to turn it off when you go out into the lunch yard."

"Most of the time, we just talk over their heads," says Andrew Friedman, a senior in North Canyon's IB program. "Non-IB kids recognize it when we talk that way -- they'll say, Oh, he's in IB Zone.' But sometimes it's hard to get out of that. To us, sarcasm and cynicism are just a part of how we talk."

That sarcasm is actually fostered in the IB classrooms, students say -- particularly in the Theory of Knowledge class, where the more talkative brains get to match wits with each other in freewheeling philosophical discussions on all matter of everyday life.

"There's always a supremacy complex, among everyone within IB, towards the regular students," says Latchmansingh. "You pretty much don't give them as much credit. It just happens gradually. And it's not like anything's built into the IB program to prevent that attitude," he adds. "Teachers promote it. In fact, IB teachers are probably the biggest supporters of the supremacy complex."

Charlie Toft, a physics teacher in the IB program at North who's also a huge fan of the Matrix movies, often feels like his students are plugged into an entirely different reality of high school life than are the mainstream kids.

"I've been teaching in the IB program for 10 years now, and I really don't know if I could go back to teaching mainstream classes," he says. Toft says that in his four years of teaching at Trevor Brown High School in west Phoenix, "all I felt like I was accomplishing was keeping everybody in their chairs and turning in homework. It was really just a management job.

"And then I came here," he says, waving his arm over the desks in his comfortable classroom in the North Sciences building. "And it was like, Oh, so this is teaching!'"

Fittingly, the IB teachers afford their adored brainiacs unique privileges never extended to mainstream students. "Sometimes you see a student drawing in class while you're giving a lesson, and you have to decide whether they're not paying attention, or whether that's just how they take their notes," says Marilyn Buehler, who recently retired from teaching IB English at North. "They're just used to multitasking."

Even administrators pamper the IB students, mindful that the IB kids keep that all-important "school label" in the "outstanding" range. "Our school label wouldn't be where it is if it weren't for these 400 kids who all exceed the AIMS on their first try," says Julie Pallissard, coordinator of North's IB program. At North, which actually closed for a while in the early '80s because of declining enrollment, IB is regarded as the magnet program that literally brought the school back.

Almost begrudgingly, the mainstream students admit to a certain respect for their brainier borders. "Hey, they're intelligent, so why shouldn't they show it?" says Astrid's friend Monica, back at the non-IB lunch table.

"I wish I could be like them," admits Astrid in a quiet voice, looking down at her cheese crisp.

It's a sentiment, sadly, that's apparently not shared by the IB kids. Whenever IB-ers talk about mainstreamers, there's seldom a touch of envy. And when they really get honest, as this one North High IB student did when she posted her opinions anonymously on the school's forum on, they can be brutal.

"To sum it up," the girl wrote, "mainstream is not only stupid, but the majority of them will grow up to mow the lawns of the IB kids. IB kids rule."

"It's all right, I guess, to have them at our school as role models," says Astrid's friend Fernando, offering consolation. "But some of them could be nicer."

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My Voice Nation Help

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!


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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