Letters from the week of January 22, 2004

 Brain Dread

Adult education: I suppose sensationalism sells. I won't even argue that behind most fallacies lie some truths. However, it is simply unfathomable that the January 15 article "Brainiacs" (Jimmy Magahern) could ever achieve any credibility. In what appears as a David and Goliath account of the obnoxiously elitist International Baccalaureate kids versus the innocuous, neglected mainstream, only one difference can be detected between the sometimes-sparring parties. This time, neither side came out on top. Truly, the article stirs up conflict where no conflict is to be had.

Through the humiliation of my friends, my peers, and the general masses of North High School, I feel taken advantage of. North is not the epicenter of all things unjust in high school politics. We were little more than the host, the face, to a predestined tale. With a bit of editing and more than a few twisted quotes, "Brainiacs" is ultimately the equivalent to a game of Mad Libs. Fill in the name, choose your adjective, and bam, a finished product. Yet this product is one I certainly would never buy, or buy into. It is not so much the content that is offensive, but the gross interpretation and liberties taken to "enhance" what simply is not there.

After being invited into our classrooms, our conversations, even our homes, the utter disrespect for our lives and, well, for truth, astounds me. In school we are promised safety, and an assured comfort that almost every adult has our interests as top priority. It was only natural, if not naive, to extend this trust to Mr. Magahern. However, in what I can best describe as irresponsibility, one reporter has consciously agitated the thread-thin balance between the populations of North High School. I can't even call it a cheap read, because after all, it was free.

Kate Glantz
Class of 2004
International Baccalaureate Program
North High School

A point of pride: I was briefly mentioned in your article on the IB program. Having read the article a few times, I keep returning to one question.


What made you, or your editor as the case may be, decide to go gunning after a group of people whose main crime is achievement? These are kids who've dealt with pejorative labels like "nerd," "geek," "poindexter" and, yes, "brainiac," for much of their educational careers. Upon finding a relatively safe haven to study, they now find a major citywide publication not only reiterating the same taunts, but also adding a new one -- "elitist" -- to the list. Painting the entire group with a wide brush, and dismissing the lot as a bunch of privileged snobs, is a kick in the teeth to this collection of young people from a variety of economic and ethnic backgrounds who have chosen an academic path already fraught with its own mountain of stressors.

Do the IB kids hang out together? Yup. But since when are benign schoolyard cliques newsworthy? Are some of them jerks? You bet! People can be like that. Do some display poor judgment? Show me an adolescent who doesn't, at some point or another.

But what have they, or the IB program, done to deserve the kind of "investigative" scrutiny and damning subtext in your article? The answer isn't clear from what was printed. What most of the IB students took from the article is, "If you're smart, you're stuck up and need to be knocked down a peg, so take that, brainiac!" To hear that from the nose-picker in middle school is one thing, but to hear it from the news media is quite a different story.

My students have been processing the article over the past couple of days, each dealing with it in his or her own way. Some make jokes about anthrax and computer viruses, some are angry (no doubt this letter has company in your inbox), and some are simply quiet. But all are shaken and suddenly self-conscious in a way that borders on shame. They feel like they did something wrong, are accomplices in some sort of scandalous behavior, and are unsure how it came to be. Haven't their parents, teachers, governor and president been telling them to work hard to get the best education they can? Aren't they supposed to avoid gangs, drugs, booze and sex and hit the books? Aren't they supposed to take up extracurricular sports, participate in school clubs, and volunteer for community service? Aren't they supposed to be colorblind? So they go about trying to fulfill these expectations, many with a sense of relief because they tend in those directions anyway, and for their efforts are "officially" branded as elitists. Shouldn't these choices be a source of pride rather than shame?

Charles J. Cavanaugh Toft

Out to lunch: When I read Jimmy Magahern's article "Brainiacs," I had to ask myself what his motives were in attempting to pass off an extremely unscientific poll of lunchroom politics as investigative reporting. His technique of interviewing students does nothing to reflect the true nature of the IB system. If he truly wanted to show the effect of IB on the emotional and cultural sensitivity of its students, he might take a look at some of the incredible social work performed by its graduates. Instead, he focuses only on students who have yet to complete and benefit from the IB program -- a program whose curriculum emphasizes tolerance and social responsibility. He might also note the community service requirements of IB and the simple fact that Spanish, "the language of poverty" according to one of his sources, is the most popular of the two languages IB offers.

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