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Anna Roth, 18, had but one response when she heard a Utah lawmaker's characterization of the International Baccalaureate program as an agenda wrapped in an "anti-American philosophy" designed to "promote the U.N. agenda."
"I honestly started to giggle," she said.
A senior soon to complete her IB diploma at West High School upon graduation this spring, Roth can't say enough good things about the program.
While studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she learned to evaluate historical documents independently of her instructor, then reach her own conclusions. She said she has rarely attended an IB class where a teacher's lecture dominates the classroom. "Pretty much every IB class is a discussion class, and students often direct that conversation. It teaches you to think critically."
Hanne Paine, a 15-year-old sophomore attending West's classes in preparation for the IB program, concurs. "I don't think I've ever been taught anything specifically anti-American," she said.
Criticism of IB may be new to Utah students, but some conservative groups have fought the program for years. Complaints in Pennsylvania and Virginia that IB perpetuates an "anti-Christian" and "anti-American" agenda have successfully removed IB programs from some schools. An online petition against IB at http://www.mychristiansite.com states the curriculum is used by the U.N. "to brainwash our kids and teach them to despise our country." Utah's conservative Eagle Forum is also a critic.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, is familiar with this criticism. It prompted her comments Thursday that helped kill a bill to provide more funding for Utah's IB programs. In voting against HB266, she said she is "opposed to the anti-American philosophy that's somehow woven into all the classes as they promote the U.N. agenda." Dayton acknowledged Friday that she has never witnessed an IB class in session. She also said it's possible "good things" are happening in the program. It's the language she says is associated with IB that galls.
She has a problem with the program's association with the International Baccalaureate Organization, based in Geneva. She issued a written statement Friday that contends Switzerland's replacement of its arbitration rules in 2004 with those of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law taint by extension the IB itself.
This means, she said, that high schools signing on to the IB program must also by extension submit any program disputes and frustrations at the local school level to U.N.-inspired regulations and the goal of creating "global citizens."
"I would like to have American citizens who know how to function in a global economy, not global citizens," Dayton said.
Sen. Darin Peterson, R-Nephi, said as he walked into last week's Senate committee meeting that he was prepared to vote in favor of HB266 until he conducted an Internet search linking IB with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). After reading a line in reference to "worldwide socialization and training for a global work force," along with words such as "independence movements, exploitation and colonialism" his decision became clear.
"Socialization has been a failure everywhere it's been tried," Peterson said. "It's not the system we work in, and it's not the system that pays our education bills."
Peterson's vote, along with that of Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, doomed HB266 despite the fact that the legislation earlier received unanimous support in the House.
Jenny Nichols, who teaches AP and IB history at West High School, wishes lawmakers and others would witness the IB curriculum in action themselves before making decisions and issuing declarations. "This is the first time I've heard of any U.N. connection. I was very surprised," she said. "Certainly we cover the U.N. as a topic from time to time, but not as a governing principle or institution."
Members of the State Board of Education on Friday called the accusations about the program unfounded and emphasized their support for IB.
"IB is a solid program. It provides solid college preparation," board member Thomas Gregory said.
* ROXANA ORELLANA contributed to this story.
* HB266 would provide $300,000 to help school districts pay for International Baccalaureate courses.
* Utah high schools with IB programs include Salt Lake City's West High, Midvale's Hillcrest High, Clearfield High, Bountiful High, Provo High and East Millcreek's Skyline High.
* A product of 1968 Switzerland, the International Baccalaureate program places an international focus on the subjects of math, science, history and theory of knowledge. Enrolled students master special topics through essays, learn a foreign language and also perform community service. It has become popular over time among university-track high school students.
* The bill would
provide $300,000 to help school districts pay for International Baccalaureate courses.
* Utah high schools with IB programs include Salt Lake City's West, Midvale's Hillcrest, Clearfield, Bountiful, Provo and East Millcreek's Skyline schools.