Longform

Brainiacs

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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."

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.

"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!'"

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Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern