IB program feeding form of bullying

These are the results of an online survey conducted from Nov. 16-Dec. 1 by reporters Kayla Rae and Alex Paskill. Students were asked a series of questions on their experiences with intellectual bullying, and had the option to leave their contact information for follow-up interviews. 102 students took the survey.

Over the years, Lincoln has earned a reputation as one of top high schools in Oregon.  Much of that reputation has been built on the opportunity to graduate with an international baccalaureate diploma.

But an investigation by The Cardinal Times indicates that along with the IB diploma can come stress, pressure and even bullying, which has snuck its ways in the halls.

The stress that students endure, no doubt, can be attributed to much more than the IB program or even academics. Some facets of a student’s life that are subject to pressure and bullying are well known, such as their social life.  

However, with the increasing amounts of successful students going through Lincoln and the IB program, academic success and social life have merged into a singular standard for Lincoln students, according to students who partook in an anonymous survey by the Cardinal Times. The Cardinal Times has decided call this “academic bullying.”

Julia Ziegler, sophomore, has noticed the ideal of students at Lincoln not only being cool, but also being extremely intelligent; something much different than the portrayal found in many Hollywood dramatizations of high school.

In fact, she said, Lincoln seems to be the opposite of those films.

“The environment at Lincoln is so competitive. Being an IB student is the expected level that you should be at to be considered smart,” said Ziegler.

That, in turn, can lead to a situation for some students that becomes more about competition than learning.

It is hard to diagnose where this competition came from; however, some students believe it’s the fault of the IB program. The installation of the program within Lincoln makes it so that anyone who wishes to be challenged can take a IB class.

“The IB diploma program is so easily accessible and anyone can take it, unlike Honors where you have to be picked,” said Ziegler.

This academic equality within the program is seen as the beauty of the IB program. Although, it is also viewed by some students as a reason for a certain type of bullying that goes on in Lincoln. The idea that anyone can take advanced classes leads students to feel as if they have to take advantage of that opportunity, whether they want to or not, according to students we interviewed.

It also differs from Advanced Placement, or AP, which is offered in many schools. There’s no such thing as an AP diploma, so most students typically take one or two AP classes, compared to the full IB schedule some Lincoln students have.

Students feel as if they must be in an IB class, or at least an accelerated class, due to the emphasis on college readiness at Lincoln. According to the survey by the Cardinal Times, which was taken by more than a hundred Lincoln students, 78.6 percent said that they felt pressured to take higher level classes, another 8.7 percent said “maybe.”

“I feel pressured to take higher level classes because college readiness is really pushed here, and in order to be prepared, you have to take these classes,” said Lindsay Unitan, a senior, reflecting on the atmosphere of Lincoln.

Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, said that they surround themselves with friends who are “really smart people, and sometimes that makes me feel mediocre.”

The pressure that students feel to achieve higher level academic success is also evident in families. Parents of high school students are likely suspects for pressuring students into classes they don’t want to take.

“I have a cousin that does all AP classes and applied to Brown University. That could be a big factor of why I want to graduate with an IB diploma,” said Ziegler.

Within the IB program, some students feel bullied for being too smart, while others outside of the program feel bullied because they aren’t smart enough.

Another anonymous student stated that they once “got a swirly because I wasn’t taking any IB classes as a freshman,” which is when someone sticks your head in a toilet and flushes.

JoAnn Wadkins, IB coordinator, said, “Lincoln has a goal to have 100 percent of our students to take at least one IB class,” but says she “get nervous when I hear about pressure.” In reality, the administration is creating a goal for all students that some may not aspire to achieve, which is a direct example of pressure, as found through the student survey.

She went on to say that “One would hope students are seeing the IB program as something they want to do. If you’re not full IB, you’re not less than, you just have different goals and passions in your life that the IB program doesn’t fit in with.”

But Wadkins also said that students who take IB classes are more likely to get into prestigious colleges.

The administration also force-feeds the IB program to students by forcing them to stay in their classrooms during valuable FLEX time to teach students the importance of the IB program and ideal values it encourages. Students often criticize the school’s efforts to place the IB program on all students.

“It’s useless, I’m not going to do IB because [the administration] locked me in a room and made me write a poster,” said Rowdy Harrelson, junior.

Sophomore Carson Coville said “I think we could be using our time more wisely in terms of homework and how much I could be studying, especially if Lincoln is gearing towards a more IB learner profile.”

An update in technology is also seen by some as just another way for some to feel as though they are not smart enough. Synergy, Lincoln’s online grading system, offers an easy way to monitor grades, but also includes a feature that ranks students within their class, from best grades to worst. This “ranking,” which can be viewed by all students at the end of the semester, could make those not in the top percentiles feel as though they are less intelligent than their friends who are.

Henry Hooper, a second-year business and CCE teacher at Lincoln, is aware of the academic bullying that takes place. He believes many students try to get the “perfect scores” which affects many students’ stress.

“The academic bullying comes down to an inordinate amount of students that have perfect scores,” said Hooper. “When you have 20 valedictorians, anyone who isn’t a valedictorian is immediately 21 in class.”

There also appears to be a racial element to the academic bullying, according to the survey.

Sophia Wilson, a mixed-raced junior at Lincoln, said that, when she “gets a bad grade and I tell my friends, they don’t seem too surprised about it. I struggle with math and have a tutor, but I happen to be the only mixed-race student in my class and I sometimes feel like an outlier and it could be because of that.”

Another anonymous student that said “African Americans are constantly suffering from the negative stereotypes targeted towards us. That we are ‘uneducated, ‘stupid’ and ‘less than.’” The survey also found that 12.5 percent of students feel bullied on academic performance because of their race, while another 12.5 percent said “maybe.”

When asked about racial breakdowns within the IB program, Wadkins said she didn’t have access to such information immediately, but would try to look into it.

Student leaders at Lincoln have acknowledged that academic bullying is common, says Lincoln’s psychologist, Jim Hanson. Hanson regards highly the efforts by Lincoln’s leadership program to prevent bullying, including intellectual bullying.

“Leadership presentations have taught ninth graders to recognize when microaggressions are happening and effective ways to intervene,” Hanson says. Microaggressions are everyday comments or actions, intentional or unintentional, that are hostile to targeted people.

The solution to academic bullying, Hanson says, is a “combination of ninth graders getting the message that bullying is never okay and upperclassmen reinforcing that idea.”