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What's the Matter With Upper St. Clair?

Chickens come home to roost in International Baccalaureate controversy

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Upper St. Clair's School District has killed its vaunted International Baccalaureate program. Supposedly it was for financial reasons, though board members including Daniel Iracki voiced fears that IB could make kids doubt their "strong Judeo-Christian value system." Worse, he speculated, its global perspectives could make Marxists of the Children of the Cul de Sac.

To which I say: Too late, guys. I already graduated.

Having grown up in USC, let me assure its parents: If anything in USC schools could make you a Marxist, it would be the students. When I attended, we didn't even have the IB program, which stresses global perspectives and critical thinking. My push to the left came from a kid named Doug. In our senior year, Doug told me he'd vote Republican "because they'll cut my dad's capital-gains taxes."

And there you have it.

I wonder who Doug's dad voted for school board last November, when Iracki's slate came to power. This is a community that believes in education and hires good teachers. (I'd name names, but I don't want to cost anyone their job. At a candidate's forum last year, Dr. Iracki warned that "[W]e really have to look closely at … what is being taught to our children. Are [teachers] trying to transform their minds into thinking differently?")

USC is also unaccustomed to being on the front pages. You can hear the anguish all along Fort Couch Road: What will the neighbors think?

USC isn't alone in its embarrassment, of course. The central-Pennsylvania district of Dover attracted international attention for seeking to teach intelligent design. Usually, though, such fiascoes involve the GOP's hayseed wing, the people who get outraged that the government subsidizes PBS and symphonies. USC Republicans, meanwhile, go to symphonies. GOP shills such as Limbaugh and O'Reilly deride pointy-headed academics, but 98 percent of USC kids go to college.

Sooner or later, though, you wake up beside the strange bedfellows your party makes. Sooner or later, the GOP's anti-tax fervor means cutting programs that patrician Republicans admire. As Tom Frank writes in What's the Matter With Kansas, his exploration of modern conservativism, when Kansas fundamentalists banned the teaching of evolution, Republicans in pricey suburbs were as appalled as anyone. Was this going to help junior get into Yale?

At USC, some saw trouble coming before Iracki's crew was elected. A slate ran as the "Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Education" to defend IB and other programs. "No one in USC … wants to pay one extra cent in taxes," the group wrote in a letter to voters. "[B]ut we do not want to slash them at the expense of education. It is our community's crown jewel, and our children's and grandchildren's future."

All to no avail, says Vicki McKenna, a CARE candidate: The winners were elected by residents without kids of their own. So while 1,000 USC residents showed up at a Feb. 20 board meeting to defend the IB program, McKenna sounds somewhat wistful. "If we had that much support last year," she says, "we would have won the election."

Indeed, if Amy Billerbeck, the top vote-getter on McKenna's slate, had gotten just 91 more votes last November, she would have beaten anti-IB board member Bill Sulkowski. That alone would have reversed the 5-4 vote to kill the program.

Billerbeck and McKenna are still Republicans, and as a product of USC's Marxist indoctrination program, I doubt I agree with them on much. But at least we could have reasoned disagreements. At least we agree on the importance of reason.

Yet I wonder: Can anyone really be surprised by what's happening there? The tax cuts enjoyed by Doug's dad, after all, cut some other kid off from government services; once Doug graduated, why should his dad pay for IB programs that no longer benefit his family?

Back in 1990, in fact, Doug's neighbors and mine helped elect Rick Santorum to Congress. This is the same Rick Santorum who advocates teaching intelligent design, and who pillories doctors and scientists on everything from stem-cell research to Terri Schiavo. Is Iracki's crew that much more narrow-minded than Santorum, whom USC voters will no doubt support again?

USC inflicted Santorum's right-wing stupidity on the nation. Now the same idiocy may infect their own children. Are they surprised? Did they think they could cut services for other people's kids … without anyone cutting services for their own?

In English class, we learned to call that "hubris."

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