A trip to the US

Thursday 25 October 2018

What happens when people | communities become polarized?

I have just returned from the United States where I have been co-facilitating leadership workshops. I was last there a year ago and things have definitely changed in this time. On this visit it is hard not to notice how individuals and communities are becoming increasingly polarized along political lines, both between the Democratic and Republican parties as well as within each of these parties.  Partisan views congregate around single issues – be they anti-abortion or immigration – and people take sides, sometimes creating fault lines through families. Increasingly, "Democrats and Republicans can't comprehend the other's point of view" and the wilingness to agree to disagree appears to be vanishing. The battle over fake news and alternative facts has given rise to simple messages | 'truths' that have the ability to divide communities and families.

I could not help but reflect back on my time leading a school in the Middle East at a time of civil war.  In the months prior to the Second Intifada discourse was rich and complex, people meeting across communities, sharing with and learning from each other. However, within weeks of the start of the civil war the ability to differentiate weakened as people started to take partisan views and divide communities into ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. The IB Mission became our necessary vision to combat such simplifications, focused as it is on creating “a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect (encouraging students to) understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.” If we embody this mission we must be willing to listen to others, to countenance other perspectives, not least those with whom we are likely to disagree.

What role will the IB have as US politics and culture evolve over the next months and years? 61% of IB schools are in the US, the majority of these being state schools. However, to what extent will the IB Mission centered as it is on nurturing international mindedness be sacrificed on the altar of national concerns and partisan views? Is there an increasing danger that US schools will adopt the IB merely for its aspirational curriculum programmes without embodying the international and global mission? How would the IB react to a large number of schools not fulfilling its mission? How could the IB help its schools in the US address the increasing divide on partisan views?


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