Blasting off on IB | AspenTimes.com

Blasting off on IB

Roger Marolt

Aspen, CO ColoradoFor maximum effect, I thought about beginning with an attention-grabbing string of statements such as: Our schools have been taken over by aliens. The superintendent has been transformed into their puppet. The school board has been reduced to the strings.But, approaching seasoned professionalism in this business, I decided against it. Such a brazen tack would net me a barrage of e-mails. I’d get them from the aliens and their captives suggesting I don’t like kids or care about education. They would come from those wondering why the press is always the last to know about these things. And many more would jam my inbox from people who’d think I was joking.Of course, after firing off their messages, the critics would feel badly. The aliens would realize that they actually are very powerful and do run the schools, which is what they really want. They would become inwardly proud of me recognizing their community standing in print. During a moment of reflection, the superintendent would see that her capitulation to the aliens is simply the price anyone has to pay for acceptance, and we all need that. And, the school board would appreciate the fact that, as elected representatives, they are supposed to be somebody’s puppet strings, so they might as well be tugged on by extraterrestrials. It’s a heck of a lot easier answering to them than the community at large.So, as you can see, it would be completely pointless to start off a column with such highly inflammatory remarks.Okay, so I am a bit miffed to learn that our schools have been furtively conducting a study about whether the International Baccalaureate program for middle and elementary school students is appropriate for Aspen public schools.For those who don’t know, the IB curriculum was originally designed to standardize, yes I said “standardize,” education in schools for children of military personnel in Europe who were required to move around a lot. The program is now recognized, by some, as offering challenging educational programs for self-selected students that can possibly be used by them for college credit, Ivy League application fortifiers, and justification for naming their parents as contributing factors when enrolling in the FDA ulcer treatment testing program.It’s not that I’m against IB (well, maybe I am against it, but we’ll get to that later). What I am against is the way the study was suggested, financed, and announced to terrestrial citizens of this community.I first read about it in the paper. Apparently, the investigation into the program began after an overwhelming community groundswell of 47 local parents (less than 4 percent of the guardianship of the entire student body), who might as well be aliens since nobody knows who they are, rallied behind the cause by raising $35,000 for it. (Rumor is that they could have raised $350,000, if needed.)Never to be outdone in the department of high skepticism, this action socks me cynical in two ways. First of all, nobody asked me if I was interested in making a contribution to pursue this exploration. Why not? For crying out loud, I have three kids in school. Only the Bradys, Bradfords, and Old Mother Hubbard have a more vested interest in this than I. There may be fault in my logic, but if these folks aren’t asking me for a donation, I sure as heck don’t believe they’ll ask for, much less care about, my meager opinion.Secondly, I’ve been around this town long enough to know what kind of an “investigation of the program” is taking place after 47 families on the alien list enthusiastically raise $35,000 to conduct it. I have a strong hunch that the only questions being asked are: How soon can we implement these programs? And, to whom do we make the checks out?So, assuming the aliens have attached their electrodes to the proper body parts of administration members, I believe the IB program for our younger kids is a done deal. But, I do have my concerns about it, and the space cadets are going to hear them anyway.First of all, I don’t believe we need more standardized educational programs. CSAP tests are too much already. I believe IB programs are appropriate for ordinary institutions. IB helps them to keep up with the Joneses’ schools. Standardized programs of any kind work well to bring laggards up to the pack, but they also lasso leaders and pull them back, too. I believe great teachers and unique programs set Aspen Schools apart. IB will limit both.I also worry that this program stratifies kids. Within the high school, you are either in the IB program or you are not. I sit on the board of a local college scholarship-granting foundation. I talk with many Aspen High School students and recent graduates. The best I can say is that a few students give lukewarm appraisal of the program. Almost all agree that it segregates kids. It’s nearly unanimous with the recent graduates, currently in college, that the IB program has mostly left them with regrets about lost opportunities for participation in more varied extracurricular activities past and broader friendships missed.The financial cost is not insignificant, either. My guess is that money to sustain these programs will come from teacher salary raises and our experiential education programs. We can’t afford to cut either.Finally, and maybe most importantly, I worry that the standardized IB program will severely limit our teachers’ inspirational creativeness. Great teachers must be allowed to employ the talents that make them superior without the impediments inherit in a program crafted and monitored by well-intentioned people in New York City who have no connection to our community whatsoever. That idea is appalling in its ridiculousness.In this small town, we have a $105 million school campus next to a $19 million recreation center, and faux grass spread across our football field, all situated in the center of a priceless natural environment. I have to believe that with the immense financial resources, along with the boundless intellectual talents we possess, that inspiration can be found to extract the best pieces from the finest educational programs in the world and tailor them into an incredible, unique program that perfectly suits the values, ideals and philosophies of our town. Yes, we will forgo the opportunity to place two letters after our schools’ names. But, in doing so, we should be able to make the first five mean a whole lot more – ASPEN.It could be out of this world!Buck Roger Marolt blasts off here in The Aspen Times every Friday. Launch into him at roger@maroltllp.com

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