The PLO delegate was angry. His eyes burned through dark glasses at the American delegate, who had just suggested that the United States might impose a food embargo on the Arab nations if they cut off oil supplies to the West.

"In that unfortunate event," the PLO representative declared sternly, "we would call on our Russian brothers to inflict a harder form of pubishment on the United States."

In one of the most popular classes at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, 11th grader Peter Shabecoff was playing his PLO part to the T.

For the last decade, world history teacher James J. Biedron has taught B-CC students about the Middle East by turning his classroom into a practical forum on the subtleties of international diplomacy.

His students can sometimes be found in native Middle Eastern garb and engaging in informal give-and-take sessions in second-floor hallways.

To Biedron, innovation is as integral to teaching as chalk and lectures. When he teaches Russian Imperial History in his bushy Nicholas II beard, he becomes a czar who dictates to his peasants. Tardy students must bow upon entering the room.

In an age of multimedia distractions and the joints, bongs, Frisbees and other accoutrements of contemporary high school culture, Biedron's is only one of an array of styles B-CC teachers employ in an effort to excite and educate.

Students today, says economics teacher Mark Simon, put a high "premium on entertainment."

Some teachers, of course, still take a more traditional approach.

Math teacher Susan Foord, a former CIA employe, demands total attention from her students. They sit erect in their chairs, books neatly open on their desks, as Foord feverishly solves complex equations to the staccato beat of chalk on blackboard.

Martina Howe, a chemistry teacher dubbed "General Howe" by some of her students, appears to relish her authoritarian image. The other day, she joked aloud about whether she dared drink a cup of coffee a student brought her.

For these teachers, the traditional teaching methods seem to work. But many teachers at B-CC believe a more flexible approach is required in what has become the new age of "relevance."

The dawn of the new era at B-CC came more than a decade ago during the antiwar and civil rights movements. Class-cutting and truancy suddenly seemed to rise in tandem with student sit-ins and protests.

Compared to the social and political traumas of the age, school to many students no longer seemed relevant. With the students seemingly no longer willing to conform, B-CC decided to conform to the wishes of the students. Teachers talked less about Abraham Lincoln - and more about the Chicago Seven.

Even as this student revolution was taking place, southwest Montgomery County, the are served by B-CC, was entering a decade of rapid change. While total enrollment declined by 528 students, minority enrollment rose sharply.

The curriculum became more diversified. Students were allowed to become involved in social causes for academic credit. More English classes for the foreign-born and slow-learners were developed. Metal, art, wood and auto shops expanded to keep pace with rising public interest in vocational education.

Many B-CC teachers today feel that along the way, the high academic standards of the once quiet neighborhood high school were compromised.

Elizabeth Layton, a B-CC English teacher for 27 years, points at a nearby hallway and says, "That used to be known as murderers' row.

"Kids used to fear even walking by here because the teachers were regarded as the roughest graders in school," she says.

In those days, Layton recalls, teachers "used to hold meetings nearly every day to discuss exactly what an 'A' meant, a 'B' and so on, and what students had to do to attain them."

Today, she says, "we approach the whole game in different ways."

One of the words frequently heard in talking to teachers about grades at B-CC is "balance."

To English teacher John R. Barrett, "balance" means adapting B-CC's traditional standards to the new wider range of student abilities.

"You just can't teach a class," sighs Barrett, "and give nothing but C's and D's."

James Downton, who is retiring after teaching Latin for 30 years, agrees.

"I pass some students now if they just show a willingness to try," says Downton. "If I insisted on having the same standards I once used, I wouldn't have any Latin students."

The number of Latin classes at B-CC, he notes pointedly, has decreased from 10 a couple of decades ago to the present three.

While many students at B-CC continue to sign up for strong academic programs in preparation for college, the school's curriculum in recent years has diversified dramatically.

Today, the B-CC faculty teaches not only fourth-year French and trigonometry but cultural survival skills and basic competency courses.

Students in remedial math classes learn how to balance checking accounts, and buy on credit.

Academic departments, moreover, have become increasingly work-oriented. Paying internships have been set up at the National Institutes of Health and an array of government and business agencies.

Even for college-bound students, the curriculum has become more diffuse to coincide with changing student interests. B-CC has classes in film and television and stained glass art and human behavior.

The principal of B-CC, Thornton F. Lauriat, seems relatively comfortable with his school's new curriculum mix.

"Our purpose is to educate the greatest number possible for as long as possible," says Lauriat. "To make kids stay in school, you make school conform to what they need in life.

"You see what's happening in society," Lauriat continues. "There's a phenomenal emphasis on the fact that everyone should succeed.

"I buy that basic concept," Lauriat says. "But I don't (think) everyone should succeed at the same thing. I counseled a kid at another school once who was totally unsuccessful as a student but went on to become one of the best auto mechanics I've ever known.

"As society shifts its focus," says Lauriat, "the schools have to respond."

But even some of the B-CC teachers marching to the new drummer seem uncomfortable about how far away they are getting from traditional academic goals.

Robert B. Appleton, who teaches U.S. government, finds it difficult to excite his class by staging a mock Senate debate on SALT (the strategic arms limitation talks).

"My subject is very important to me, but it seems like it's . . . either nice to know, or of no consequence to them," he says.

It's only when he gets more personlized issues - like the murder trial of Terrence H. Johnson, the 17-year-old youth convicted of involuntary man-slaughter in the shooting deaths of two Princes George's County policemen - that his class comes alive.

"Crime and justice inspire these kids more than stuff like the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War," he says. "They'll go bananas when we do the drinking age, and whether people on motorcycles should be forced to wear helmets. Now we're talking about things that affect them."

Even when he sticks to reasonably recent topics, Appleton finds the level of awareness of today's B-CC students - and their level of interest - disappointing.

"I loved school," Appleton says. "There was the pursuit of knowledge and the sharing of ideas. I grew up during the tail end of the depression and the beginning of World War II. God, it was exciting.

"Now, I find myself assuming too much," he sighs. "Some kids will say they don't know what Pearl Harbor was about, or don't know much about Kennedy's assassination. You saw in class today. Six people didn't know who Terrence Johnson was."

But while conscientious teachers like Appleton find it hard to lower their sights, B-CC principal Lauriat says they will simply have to adjust to the new realities.

"The whole mission of education has changed in the last decade," says Lauriat, "so you'd expect teachers to change with it."

And for the most part, like it or not, at B-CC they have.

But if B-CC's teacher are finding adjustment difficult, B-CC students are also not finding it easy. CAPTION: Picture 1, Marcy Widder plays role of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in Bethesda-Chevy Chase High history class. This innovative teaching method is one of an array teachers use in an effort to excite and educate students. By James A. Parcell - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Physics teachers Francis Maciorowski, left, and Edwin Schneck talk with student after class. For some instructors, traditional teaching methods still work. Photos by James A. Parcell - The Washington Post