Letters from the week of January 22, 2004

Patrick Mertz

Under pressure: I am a 2001 graduate of North Canyon High School's International Baccalaureate Program. I read your article in New Times and I felt it imperative to call to your attention a giant issue that the entire piece seems to neglect -- immaturity.

You charge through that story like a champ. You wrote an article that would make any English professor proud -- topic sentences, support, a neat conclusion. The whole thing was really very tightly woven and easy to read. However, you seem to be writing about some strange society of adults. Because you never chalk anything up to their age, which is, by the way, young.

Do you recall high school? I do. I recall the IB experience. Being pressured by parents to work hard. Being made to feel like you, unlike all of those other kids, have already found your niche and now it is your responsibility to stay on that path. It is four years ruled by fear, immaturity and, yes, work.

And you won't get this information from the kids at North. Not the current ones. Because at the time, you feel great. So cool. You do get special treatment. And you are better, in most cases, at something than almost everyone around you.

I am not saying that your article was wrong. It wasn't. There is elitism there. There are kids who feel that because they excel at school, they needn't try their hand at anything else. There are even kids who genuinely believe that all they need to do is what's expected of them to have some mainstream kid mowing their lawn one day. Sick as that may be.

I am simply writing this to ask a favor. Write an article, a follow-up about how fear of failure, immense pressure, and natural immaturity are at the root of most IB behavior. Write an article about what happens to us IB kids when we graduate, grow up, and find a touch of individuality and enough free space to run with it.

Andrew Goldwasser
Via e-mail

A chip off the old block: If there are few blacks or Hispanics in the IB program at North, perhaps it is because media outlets like yours perpetuate the myths that it isn't cool to pursue academics and that bright, motivated students are elitists. Shame on you. Instead of ridiculing these students, who work much harder than required to actually learn while in school, you should be highlighting their many accomplishments. They perform community service in addition to their studies, and are by and large nice, wholesome, mature kids who are actually anticipating the future, instead of smoking dope, skipping class, having babies or getting arrested, like so many misguided mainstream kids. Most also come from homes with two parents, who care about their kids' educations, which is a rare thing today. And, yes, my son is an IB student.

Joseph Feldman

Let kids be kids: Colorful article on the IB kids. I bet, though, if you took any subgroup at any school, you could paint them as being just as horrid. They're kids, after all, and if it comes as a surprise to anyone that they say irresponsible things, well, consider the source.

I do question the value of referencing a vile Web site like schoolscum.com. Lots of nasty, anonymous things get posted on these sites by all kinds of kids. Racism, classism, homophobia, and ad hominem hate messages are the hallmark of this dreadful site, and inviting conclusions based on it says more about Jimmy Magahern than it does about the IB program.

I've been teaching in the public schools for 20 years, and I could poison-pen an article on the general population, the remedial kids, the ESL people, the parents, heck, even the faculty if I were so inclined. But it would be just as much of a distortion as the "Brainiacs" piece because life, as always, is more complicated than that.

IB is the right program for some kids and the wrong one for others, just like every other school program. I, for one, wouldn't mind a semester or two of multitasking superlearners, but hey, a job's a job, and if I have to face masses of slack-jawed, hostile, immune-to-learning/allergic-to-work/afraid-to-be-smart teenagers, then that's just life in a school. You work with what you're given; you build bridges where you can.

Magahern hits home, though, when he points out that North is leaning on these kids to keep its AIMs numbers in the acceptable range. I think the public has no idea how badly high-stakes testing has gutted the mission of public education without providing a single benefit to kids. Here in Arizona, we live, breathe and dream test scores, so it wouldn't surprise me if the administration at North were doing a ballet with the numbers in order to avoid some obnoxious label. It's happening all over the country. Instead of focusing on what specific kids need, we drill the tests because that's all that counts. It's mind-numbing. The myths we have about accountability could fill a library of fairy tales.

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