The Paradox of International Schools

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Wordle the mission statements of international schools and I am sure you will see wonderful patterns like the one above espousing the virtues of educating young people in a globalized environment of interdisciplinary responsibility, innovation and compassion.

Then visit one.

I am not going to make the point that schools are not living their missions. That is unfair since I have only visited dozens of perhaps thousands of such institutions. Please allow me to elaborate on the last word choice in that sentence.

Institution.

I recently had a conversation with a panel from one of the best international schools in the world. Large in scope. Ambitious in numbers. Multi-campus, well-funded, idyllic location, superior teaching resources. They had it all. The glorious mission statement was a mosaic of whole child ideology sprinkled with the virtues of holistic learning and community. It was poetry.

Then came the questions about performance, standards, and college. And it got me to thinking. What was their mission? What were they expecting me to do when and if I got the position? I soon found out when I made the offhand remark that not everyone could get into Cornell. I was corrected by one on the panel who said, “You mean Harvard.”

So, here’s the paradox: You will not realize your mission as long as you base its fulfillment on the singular indicator of college entrance. It is an explicit outcome that ties the hands of every international school to meet the demands of its clients, to indicate levels of “success” and to demonstrate to one another that we are, in fact, able to keep up with the competition. Performance based on college acceptance is a large shadow that has not changed in nearly a hundred years but continues to be the keystone that gives us legitimacy. What about the mountain of data that continues to demonstrate that this outcome is no longer the key to success, let alone the fulfillment of our missions? Yes, it’s the best we’ve got for now. No, college dropouts don’t always become Bill Gates.

Then why do we continue to produce these lofty mission statements that satiate our 21st century ambitions to appear relevant and fresh when our actual mission hasn’t changed in decades? Dare I say that this clearly defined, though not explicit outcome, is holding us back?

Is it time to stop pretending that we are being innovative and revolutionary in our multi-cultural global citizenry when we all really have one mission statement that we are all fighting over?

Get as many kids as we can into the best colleges possible. So clean. So simple. I feel better already.

It’s a difficult paradox. I know. Not everyone is going to Cornell. I mean, that other place.

About Stephen Dexter, Jr.

Stephen is an international educator and administrator. A native of the United States, he lives with his wife Stephanie (a specialist in families in global transition) in Croatia along with his daughter and son. With a career that spans over twenty years in public, private and international schools, he writes when he can and is on a quest to discover if "text walking" is changing the human brain.
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2 Responses to The Paradox of International Schools

  1. Athan Rodostianos says:

    I have always taken the view that the students attending international schools, notably those undertaking the IB Diploma, will likely be the leaders of our world in the future. This happens more or less by default – they will attend the best universities, or more importantly, they will likely attend the universities that they want to attend. There is a lot of self selection present.

    Whether this is moral or not is not the question at this point. The question is whether we accept this likelihood and focus on developing young people that are critically minded, adaptable, resourceful, aware….

    I like the mission at my current school, it simply refers to helping students achieve more than they believe they can. And in my humble experience, once children start to believe in their abilities to consider the world critically, or “to think”, dreams much, much greater than going to Cornell, or even Harvard, start to take form.

  2. SEMOD says:

    How completely true!

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