Internationalism and the IB
Whilst most of the readers of this article will be familiar with the IB (if not, please see the IBO website at www.ibo.org), the term ‘internationalism’ is more interesting and speculative in terms of meaning than they may realise. The key features of an IB world school will be that being ‘international’ means having students from two or more nations, active in reaching beyond national boundaries (be they physical, cultural, religious or linguistic). ‘Internationalism’ would therefore mean having/being of international character, principles, interests or outlook, a policy of cooperation among nations, and an attitude or belief favouring such a policy.
The International Baccalaureate Organization Mission Statement states that it aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect… [IBO] programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right (emphasis added).
Central and implicit in the IBO’s aims are the universal and liberal notions of tolerance, understanding and acceptance. Arising inevitably from these aims is a question about the limits of tolerance and respect for the practices of other cultures – and indeed also about the limits of tolerance and respect for the practices of the learner’s own culture. Are there limits to the moral imperative to accept the rightness of cultural practices different to those of the learner? Does the very fact of cultural difference imply rightness? When, in other words, should we not respect the practices of other cultures, or indeed those of our own culture? When might we be justified in claiming that a particular practice of a particular culture is morally wrong? The IBO would not, after all, allow the implementation of its curricula in the schools of a culture that denied girls the right to education, or in schools that were ethnically or racially segregated, such as those of apartheid-era South Africa or parts of the USA until the 1960s.
This judgement of the wrongness of these cultural practices appears to conflict with the IBO’s curricular aims of respect, tolerance and understanding. There are indeed limits to the principle of tolerance in an internationalist’s perspective on values and ethics in education in multicultural societies characterised by a diversity of claims to truth and goodness. We are bound to respect the right of all cultures to live in accordance with their own beliefs and practices, but only in so far as these beliefs and practices are consistent with the principles associated with multiculturalism itself, primary among which is the principle of respect for the rights of others. And we are committed to rejecting practices that violate this and its associated principles. There are, in other words, ethical principles and educational ideals that can be justified as applicable to all cultures, whether or not those cultures reject such principles and ideals. But then the key question is: Who decides what these overriding principles and ideals are? Are they formulated in the minds or hearts of highly educated western world idealists, or are they formulated in dialogue and discussion between all cultures concerned, with no imposition allowed in either or any direction?
To bring it back to the students – the 10 aspects of the learner profile are: Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open Minded, Caring, Risk Takers, Balanced, and Reflective. Perhaps it is good for us all to think carefully about ourselves and how we relate to each of these aspects of the IBO Learner Profile. Inevitably there will be some parts which you can identify with more easily than others. There will be some parts with which you identify little, but to which you aspire – therefore – be a risk taker!!! Perhaps you may want to have time to inquire more about things, not to accept all things at face value. Can you place this quality alongside the idea of being balanced, of being reasonable and of being sensible and fair to the extent that another person can be wrong? Can you allow them to express their opinion freely without fear, in order to be a risk taker, to be open minded, to be an inquirer, to be caring, to be reflective, and to consider possibly that actually the other person might not be the one who is wrong after all?
It is in the context of the learner profile that students should be internationalists. But it is not enough to just exist as an international community and, therefore, think that we are international on the basis of fateful residence and schooling. It is vital to be active and considerate of our circumstances and fellow human beings around us, and it is certainly incumbent upon us to be even more mindful of the possible differences that there might be, the value that there might be in listening to one another, in trying something different, in not being held by our own national, linguistic and cultural habits. It is hard to break free of such things, and become inclusive and embracing of other nations, languages and cultures. It is also not enough for it to be a ‘school thing’ that the internationalism stops at the gate and starts again in the morning on the way to school. The adults as well will find value in the principles and aims of the IBO and its Learner Profile. After all, it is the aim of the IBO to make ‘a better world’ partly because we, as adults, haven’t yet done enough to do so.
By Richard Naylor