Friday, May 11, 2012

Glocal schools? An interesting struggle over global and local school influences in New Hampshire

Recently New Hampshire (the state where I currently reside) has been inundated with proposed education legislation—from a statewide voucher program to the required offering of Bible classes in schools to a school’s obligation to offer an alternative curriculum if a parent disagrees with the current one. One of the most interesting bills is HB 1403, which takes issue with the International Baccalaureate program, a decades-old program housed in Switzerland and run by a UNESCO NGO. The program offers a rigorous curriculum and is currently used by two schools in New Hampshire.

While I am not intimately familiar with the IB program, I was intrigued to hear that the majority of NH Representatives felt that the program should be banned from New Hampshire because it is designed by foreigners and because, rather than upholding US or state laws as the highest guidelines and championing US sovereignty at all costs, it draws upon globally-oriented documents and philosophies such as those endorsed by the United Nations. Some feared that the IB program was a form of international indoctrination that taught un-American values, rather than concentrating on instilling facts. (A selection of quotes about concerns with the IB program have been collected here.) While some state residents echoed similar concerns at hearings at the state capitol and in newspaper editorials, participants in the program, including high school students, spoke passionately on its behalf and, partially as a result of the student efforts, the bill was just recently voted Inexpedient to Legislate by the Senate Education Committee (despite its overwhelming support in the House).

The existence of such proposed legislation and the discussion it provoked certainly raises concerns about the local control of schools, including the teaching of both facts and values that are upheld within one’s own community. But it’s also noteworthy when a local community participates in a school’s decision to intentionally select a foreign-based curriculum, thereby invoking local control to make a non-local choice and privilege global perspectives. It’s also noteworthy that even as cultivating citizens who are globally competent, or at the very least workers prepared for an increasingly global economy, becomes a more widely held purpose of schooling, the desire to maintain state and federal control over how global living is defined is still quite strong.

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