SAN FRANCISCO — For anybody who has dreamed big about building a better world and is starting small, let the story of the International Baccalaureate (IB) serve as an inspiration to you.
The IB started as a small diploma program in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968 for internationally mobile students. Today, there are IB programs in nearly 2,500 schools in 128 countries around the world enrolling over 600,000 students.
The IB combines high academic standards with a powerful humanist purpose. Its mission statement speaks of developing “inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”
As the Aga Khan noted in his Peterson Lecture to the IB this past April, “Pluralism is a value that must be taught.”
The IB recognizes that the first step to teaching students those qualities is attracting educators with those qualities, and treating them like real professionals. I just spoke at their North American Regional Conference in San Francisco, where over 1000 educators came together to deepen their knowledge about teaching, and I came away deeply impressed by the sense of pride and purpose that IB teachers have.
I was especially struck by the number of educators from places we don’t normally think of as especially internationally-minded: Florida, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina.
One of the people honored at the conference was a Floridian named Don Driskell. His acceptance speech was a set of “Aw Shucks” stories of his farm boy days. But he’s been quietly serving as one of the most effective ambassadors of international education in the United States for the last quarter century. Thanks to Don and his crew, Florida graduates more IB Diploma holders than most countries and he’s helped over 150 schools start their own programs.
Because the IB’s mission is centered on changing the world, it is constantly learning and changing itself. I was there to talk about the importance of directly engaging religion and religious diversity in the curriculum. The conference organizers warned me that I might get some resistance from the powerful secularist streak within the movement. But the only reaction I saw was hundreds of teachers asking, “How can I learn more about your methodology so that I can teach it to my students?”
Each one of the educators in that huge conference hall is changing countless lives, opening up powerful possibilities, and setting new standards. As the Aga Khan said in his Peterson Lecture: “(their endeavor) is redefining what it means to be well educated.”