'International schools' idea dies; legislators describe plan as un-American
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 20, 2007 12:00 AM
Everyone agrees: The world is shrinking.
Businesses need people skilled in world languages and economics. The government has gaping holes in diplomacy and intelligence. Universities are begging for more students with sophisticated learning.
It all gives credence to a bill in the Arizona Legislature to create international schools to help make students globally competitive.
But, in the end, the bill died. As its supporters learned, "international" is a dirty word among some at the Capitol.
Key leaders there suggested the bill was un-American and part of a slippery slope to a U.N. takeover and the end of U.S. sovereignty.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, would have put three K-12 schools in the northern, central and southern parts of the state, where kids would begin a second language in kindergarten, and set up new international programs at seven high schools. Big business and universities pledged to partner with the schools. First-year costs would have been $2.3 million, or less than 0.02 percent of the proposed state budget.
Wisconsin, Kansas and Ohio have launched similar programs.
The bill took some twists and turns:
• Some Arizona legislators were so opposed to the bill that supporters changed the name from international schools to American competitiveness project schools to appease them.
That didn't sway Sen. Ron Gould, a Lake Havasu City Republican.
"What I'm assuming is that they changed the name, trying to get us to be less objectionable, as if, you know, a rose by any other name is not as sweet," said Gould, a member of the Senate's K-12 Education Committee. "There's a lot of us here who are not internationalists. These schools actually have kind of a United Nations flavor to them, and we're actually into educating Americans into Americanism, not internationalism."
• Sen. Karen Johnson, a Mesa Republican and chairwoman of the K-12 Education Committee, never let the proposal out of committee. Johnson instead brought in a professor from Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minn., to educate lawmakers on the dangers of a popular international studies program, the International Baccalaureate. The 37-year-old high school program offers rigorous courses and diploma programs in schools worldwide, including 759 in the United States and 12 in Arizona. Its goals are intercultural understanding, community service and preparation for university work.
"The International Baccalaureate is un-American," Allen Quist, who served in the Minnesota Legislature in the 1980s and ran for Minnesota governor as a Republican in 1994, said in a phone interview. He said that International Baccalaureate's links to the United Nations are disturbing and that its sense of right and wrong is ambiguous.
It teaches students to see the American system of government as one of many, not as the only one that protects universal and God-given rights to property, to bear arms and free speech, Quist said.
• To get around Johnson, supporters took the proposal to the Senate's Higher Education Committee. The proposal eventually reached the House Appropriations Committee, which helps decide what bills get funded and how much. There, it ran into Rep. Russell Pearce, a Mesa Republican. Pearce recalled this week that his research on international schools in general found them to be dangerous, and he suggested their agenda was tied to the U.N., not America.
"Our schools ought to be focusing on education that we, as Americans, espouse," Pearce said. "We ought to concentrate on United States history and United States heroes."
So the bill did not survive its first round in the Legislature. Instead, a measure was put in the state budget authorizing Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of public instruction, to seek private donations for such a program. Horne said he didn't need the authorization and plans to bring the proposal back for state funding next year. In the meantime, he'll look for private and federal grants to move the project ahead.
Horne has some experienced allies, including Richard Mackney, a 1977 graduate of the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale who has spent 30 years in international business, mostly with Goodrich Corp. He volunteered to help the Arizona Department of Education develop the schools proposal.
Like principals, teachers and students in international studies, he was surprised at some lawmakers' attitudes.
The value of the proposal is that average students could start in kindergarten learning a world language and preparing to enter rigorous international studies, he said.
Universities and businesses have promised to use these Arizona schools as laboratories for school reform, sending scholars to help teachers and creating internships to help students build careers. Then, businesses such as Goodrich, Intel and American Express could find executives they need in Arizona and not look elsewhere, he said.
"Then, we say, 'Hey, Arizona state Senate, what were you talking about, that this internationalism destroys Arizona?' " Mackney said. " 'We've just shown you that you were wrong.' "