Thursday, 14 July 2016

IB to the forefront: an hour for fierce internationalism

 It is easy to forget that progress, and the long arc of hopeful change towards global understanding and citizenship, are never guaranteed. Our expectations informed by the cursory glance that has seen us move from Renaissance to Enlightenment to the Internet age, we think positive change in education, technology and life quality, in international awareness and peaceful prosperity, are a given – or at least a downhill slope in our favour. Only occasionally arrives the sharp shock of a moment when things are plunged into reverse and we realise the casual certainty of our positivity disguises a precipice of fragility, of risk: at that point we can become either despondent in our insecurity in our shaken values, or choose to find new passion to rise in action in their defence. As a Briton, it is less than a month since my country, inexplicably to me, chose political and economic self-mutilation and self-abasement on the global stage, openly advertising advertising its ignorance, unmerited egoism, and low-grade racism. The catalyst for finally overcoming my shock was trying to explain it this week over supper at an international conference of educators, to a table with roots variously in America, Canada, Austria, and Iran (people whose countries have both suffered worse hardships and immigration loads than my whinging compatriots without making such a staggeringly dim decision.) And it became clear to me that, if I am incandescently angry about this on a personal level, I also have a professional responsibility to respond to it, as an educator, and an IB one especially.

Those of us who work in International Baccalaureate schools (and doubtless those who entrust their children to our care) often have a degree of zeal for our project that teachers within other systems lack; I certainly had no philsophical attachment to GCSE and A-level while I worked in them, and feel more committed to the conscious and conspicuous internationalism at the IB’s heart. As such, I suppose we see the growing number of IB schools not merely as a pleasing career opportunity to be ever-more global in our own wanderings, but a good thing per se, a natural evolution in a presumed rise towards global fraternity and mutuality of values, rigorous and righteous in both purpose and methods. Yet now I find myself in conversations with foreign compatriots, apologising in my second sentence of every conversation (viz, as soon as they identify a British accent – it derails all conversations instantly with my respondents’ sudden incredulity, which would be rude were it not so apt.) I imagine only US Democrats abroad in 2000-06 know the disjointed feeling. At least it stings me to remember how passionate my hitherto-dozing internationalism must again become.

Progress not guaranteed, as I say, and backward movement oh-so-possible. How perilously fragile democracy seemed in 1939 as Spain crumbled and facism soared; or think of the vicious repressions of 1848 or the meaningless identity blood-feuds of Christian Europe’s seventeenth century. What loss when the Tigris and Euphrates ran black with the ink of lost knowledge after the Mongol destruction of Baghdad’s great libraries; and after the decline and fall of Rome, that near-thousand years of darkness, ignorance, dwindling and inquisitorial suppression that close-on extinguished Europe’s sciences and philosophy. The same forces of menace are with us now in greater strength than we think: we stand threatened by rising plagues which may soon run untouched by antibiotics we refuse to renew; fester in the deceit of post-factual politics, and return to hate-demanding religious dogma, corroding all moderate liberal understanding; live through the unbalancing asset-stripping of whole workforces and societies; and await the yet-unexperienced looming environmental catastrophe we continue to fuel regardless. Isn’t education the very spear-point and last, best hope against these threats? Isn’t IB deeply rooted in values that challenge these follies, exploitations and hatreds that divide us? Brexit is a pointed, if comparatively trivial, symptom of this mosaic of anti-progressive malaise.

So in response, the truism of universal local action being the only global change remains a permanence, and our commitment as IB educators, as champions of its values, is not without potential to force change through newly-educated generations – with idiocy like Brexit as much as anything else. Here therefore is my appeal to you, primarily as teachers, and for consideration by IB students and their parents too. Take or amend how you like, but I hope it will joltingly wake you from the shock and stupor of the Brexit disaster as these thoughts did me. Speak out, and act now and ongoingly with these in mind.

  1. As educators, actively decry Brexit to your audience. Stop being apologetic gutless wet liberals and stand for what your profession, school system and identity represents; get off the neutrality fence, and stop “accepting the decision of the electorate” as if that were the arbiter of philosophical validity. This was a retrograde, irrationally emotional, misinformed, manipulated, stupid and dangerous decision. If we are internationalists, as those invested in the IB must surely be, then speak for those values. Find every way you can to tell your students this decision was outright wrong, why, and invite controversy with parents and communities in doing so. Educators are not neutral within the social order: we are not merely entitled, but obliged, but be a radiant light of reason over falsehood, of communitarianism over isolationism and suspicion, of fellow-feeling versus selfishness and violence; we are the champions of evolving globalism and training self-faith in readiness for, rather than rejection of, that promised future.
  2. Promote your IB school and curriculum as being a thing better than ever for young people, and the societies they serve and constitute. This is the darkest hour yet for the European project, and let us not forget the key role played by the peaceful postwar pan-European mindset in first launching and driving the IB as a global force and philosophy in education. From the heated, cluttered boundaries and jarring tongues of Western Europe rose those two world wars that almost destroyed civilisation; it was the determined inversion of “difference” from a danger to an opportunity that underpinned both the growth of the EU, and the rise of IB education: an IB educator must be pro-EU and global to be philosophically consistent. And Brexit additionally was a betrayal of the young (who voted three-quarters for Remain) by the comfortable and self-serving over-50s; why we are still debating giving 16 year-olds the vote is beyond me – in a vote determining an indefinite future, why on earth did we allow retirees “invested” not in action-and-principle, but only share portfolios, a say? More than ever as the Brexit stormclouds roll in we will need a generation of resilient young people braced against the storm and committed to fly the flag of internationalism, open-minded and open-hearted, virulent in their defence of European and global commonality and resolved to do everything they can to diminish the bitter poison of this decision, to limit its effects or reverse what they can – to champion an outward-facing Britain reborn. Any parent with any care to the future should want their child in an IB school right now, and IB schools are fairer-set than any others to develop the young leaders our future needs in this regard.
  3. For IB students less fiery in their passion for the project, emphasise the selfish personal win this can represent too. How easy a decision to be philosophically right and resonant becomes when the moral good aligns so totally with individual self-interest: as Britain, witlessly self-diminished, inevitably becomes more insular, racist, intolerant and outraged by its self-inflicted seclusion, those who are educated under such a cloud, or bear a new passport tarnished with such petty superiority complex become more questionable in their internationalism, become less desirable to globally-minded universities. A decade from now, if what follows is not both fantastically conducted, fortunate and forgiven by our European peers, why should an international university consider an English student against a French or Brazilian one? Why would international-minded British-educated or -passported students wish to remain in the likely-declining universities of even London and Oxbridge, when Boston or Hong Kong rise to outcompete them? (How desperately those great British universities will scrabble to retain their traditionally global leadership amongst increasingly parochial student bodies, stuffed with petty Little Englanders brainwashed with a Govean curriculum of Magna Carta, Vitae Lampada and the Blitz, all variety restricted by May’s strict limits on incoming students – at risk of becoming declining echo chambers of English vanity, with student bodies and [soon] boorish jingoistic billionaire private owners like Aaron Banks flattering themselves that the handful of foreigners their pet institutions deign to admit are fortunate to have been permitted in to imbibe the degradedly-Elgarian trumpets of delusional English self-importance. If you are educated within Britain, or abroad but holding an English passport, the IB will best inoculate you against the worst of this, providing both the badge and the mindset to allow you to step away from this nationalistic morass, if you wish – for you are part, consciously and conspicuously as I say, of a global union, citizenship, and values.
  4. Extend and expand these beliefs as broadly as possible, lest like confidences and public goods are lost for lack of similar care. The ease of bemoaning the UN or the rule of law independent of public opinion or political interference, as much as the EU, is a siren call to the stupid; apathetic critiques of the complexity or inconvenience of recycling, or paying fair tax, of rejecting all ethnocentrism or identity politics, or of acknowledging civilised societies’ need for basic social justice and balance of power – all are seductively appealing, and as dangerous by attrition as was the uninformed and casual rejection of Britain’s (valuable and beneficial) membership of the EU, now squandered. Don’t stand by idly while ungrounded complaint against meritable, if complicated, commitments or institutions are belittled, whether by fools or knaves. If you hold liberal international values, then listening to bigots hold forth in public is not some form of sociological field research: that’s fighting talk, and you must treat it as such – go out to bat on all these related issues, lest the pillars of the temple crumble one by one, each a cause of nostalgic regret after the fact. “Apres nous, le deluge” is no testament to your values, and no legacy to hand your children.
  5. Finally, if you’re reading this as an American, Don’t Vote Trump, and don’t let anyone you know do so either. This, I believe, speaks for itself as an obvious Anglo-Saxon Brexit equivalence for North America to anyone capable of processing any polysyllabic words in this article.

Brexit is an indescribable folly and a danger of a scale of magnitude yet uncomprehended. I despise this cretinous decision to reject modernity, shared identity and citizenship, optimism and determination to shape a peaceful, prosperous and communitarian future. It offends and enrages me as a European, as a global citizen, and as an Englishman and Briton. And, as an IB educator with deep sympathy for the aims of the curriculum I deliver, it is my professional and ethical responsibility to use all influence I have to ridicule this vote and choice. I invite you to stand with me for internationalism and let our global sisterhood and brotherhood be heard through our unity, and in our classrooms. I don’t know about you, but in every sense, I still believe in striving for the impossibility of ever-closer union amongst nations and peoples.