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Facing the Threats to Intercultural Understanding

(Excerpted from an address to the Plenary, International Baccalaureate Conference, Toronto, Canada, July 16, 2016)

JB speaking at Toronto IB Conference

Good morning et bonjour.  I am John Bader, Chief External Academic Relations Officer for the IB, based in our Washington office.  Je m’appelle Jean Badere, et je suis le chef responsable pour les relations exterior.  I am delighted to welcome you to this morning’s plenary session, and to a day of extraordinary programming, networking, learning and fun at our conference.

Just as important, I want to welcome you to Canada.  I like to think that one explanation for Canada’s hospitality and leadership is that it is a bilingual country.  C’est un pays bilingue.  Bilingualism lays at the heart of the IB experience, and it is no coincidence that Canada’s two languages were the two original, official languages of the IB.  C’est pour ca que je vais parler en francais pour quelque minutes.

On ne peut pas trop parler de l’importance de l’expérience bilingue pour apprécier l’impact du bachot international.  Quand les étudiants apprennent deux langues, et peut-être d’autres, ils comprennent qu’il y a des attitudes différentes, que l’idée des cultures différentes existent de façon spécifique et vraie.  Les difficultés d’apprendre d’autres langues étrangères, sont comme les difficultés d’apprécier d’autres peuples, d’autres points de vue. 

Alors, c’est logique que la contribution la plus importante des Français au programme diplôme est la théorie de la connaissance, le TOK.  La puissance de ce cours est la possibilité de comprendre que ma perception du monde n’est pas la vôtre.  De cette façon, on peut vivre ensemble et en paix.  Après le massacre de Nice, il n’y a pas de moment plus important pour réaliser l’importance de la tolérance et du respect.

Indeed, we are gathering at a time of danger and threat to the commitment to intercultural understanding and respect.  Shootings in Paris, Minnesota and Dallas, bombings in Brussels, calls for stopping Muslims at the US border or deporting Islamic believers—we are seeing obvious patterns of xenophobia, racism, prejudice and suspicion that threaten to overwhelm our vision of a world made better through international education.

When a madman drives a truck to kill those celebrating an anniversary of liberty, we are overwhelmed by fear, by anger.  We begin to think that a world knitted together by respect is a dream that is becoming ever more distant.

But I would remind us that world history has always been a dialogue between the forces of chaos and fear, and the vision of a world governed by laws, inspired by faith, and connected by respect.  At a moment like this, we may gain resolve from remembering that the IB was founded by visionaries who saw education as the best answer to war and conflict.

But we can gain even greater inspiration by looking around this room and around our community.  There, we would see thousands of teachers working every day with grit, imagination and insight to nurture a new generation of peacemakers.  We would see children taught in many tongues to learn other languages and appreciate contrarian viewpoints.  We would see our alumni, from those who just graduated to the prime minister of this great nation, making a difference in their communities every day.  We would see dedication, by heads of schools, IB coordinators and staff, working as one to realize a vision of a global educational experience that fights the darkness.

And we would see how the world, more and more, is seeing the difference the IB is making to that fight, to how our amazing students take with them qualities that make every place they go a better place.

As educators, you appreciate there is much more to the world than we know.  In this case, we do not know the full impact of an IB education on the thousands of communities affected by our schools around the world.  We cannot see all the amazing things that our alumni do, though we have a pretty good idea.  Our research gives us convincing evidence that the impact is strong and positive.

But I think, at a moment of global darkness in the aftermath of the Nice massacre, it’s best to make this a matter of faith.  Let us have faith that we are doing the right thing by educating our children to be hopeful and respectful.  Let us have faith that such an education makes an immeasurable difference.  And let us have faith that the hard work we do will continue to hold back the waves of intolerance that assault us.

Thank you et merci beaucoup.

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