Global Awareness and Civic Engagement with Teenagers

One of the courses I teach is World Studies; a class where my sophomores (15-16 years old) spend a year learning about various regions of the world.  I have many goals for my students, but the two I feel are most important are increasing global awareness and introducing them to the idea of civic engagement.  The past two years I have developed two activities of which I am particularly proud along these lines, and I wanted to share them with you.

Since the issue of Iran’s nuclear program has been a major news story the past number of years, I decided to have my sophomores write a letter to President Obama with their thoughts on the situation.  To teach the students first about the issue, we watched a Frontline documentary, “Showdown with Iran.”  After that, we read an article from CQ Global Researcher, “Rising Tension Over Iran.”  Most of our time, however, was spent going over the Council on Foreign Relations’ excellent interactive, “Crisis Guide: Iran.”  All of this took us about three weeks to analyze, and once we finished, the students each wrote a letter outlining what they thought was the appropriate course of action for the US to take in regards to Iran;s nuclear energy program.  The only major constraint they had in their opinion was that it had to be based on those they learned about from “Crisis Guide: Iran”- diplomacy, covert action, sanctions, preventive strikes, opposition support, public diplomacy, and do nothing (allow Iran to gain nuclear energy).  For most of my students, this was their first time writing to an elected official, and even though their letters may have reflected that they are not international relations experts, I was very proud of them.

Millennium Development Goals
This year I decided to try a new project with my sophomores- a regional summit at the end of each region we study (Europe, the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa, MENA, and Asia).  Basically, students worked in pairs representing a different country within the region and had to research that country’s position on our two topics.  For our summits in Europe and the Americas, our two topics were the role of women in development, and protecting the global climate.  For Africa, we will be addressing agriculture development and food security, as well as controlling and eliminating malaria.  All of these topics fall under the realm of the Millennium Development Goals, which we covered for a week at the beginning of the year.

Each of those topics also have an actual UN Resolution, which students used as a starting point for their research.  The first step was to gain a general understanding of the topics.  This entailed analyzing other UN resolutions, visiting NGOs’ websites, and reading up on current events.  Next, they researched their country’s position on those topics. For this part, I had them start with their assigned country’s websites for the ministry of foreign affairs and the permanent mission to the UN.  Finally, they typed up proposed solutions to the problems within those topics based on their country’s policies.

During the summits, students used parliamentary procedure and worked towards creating a resolution (similar to a UN resolution) per issue.  The entire time, they had stay “in character” as a representative of their respective country.  I emphasized that since the goal of each summit was to reach an agreement, then they needed to be prepared to listen to ideas that are different from their own and compromise to create solutions.

It was a great exercise for them to learn how different countries viewed the same problem.  The project gets students to see global issues through multiple perspectives and teaches them about point of view.  For example, during our upcoming Africa summit, they should be able to see the difference in how industrialized countries and less developed countries approach the same issue.

As a culminating assessment for their semester final, students had to pick one of the two topics about women or the global climate and write a letter outlining their personal proposals to either UN Women or the UN Environment Programme.  I thought that this was appropriate for two reasons- 1) they had to show me what they learned about the two topics during our first two regional summits, and 2) it was a lesson in civic engagement.  This was a chance for my sophomores to think about global issues and ways to address some of the problems associated with those issues.  I sent off the letters to the two bodies, so now we wait, hopeful for a response.

If teachers around the world taught their students to become more globally aware, to see local and global issues through different points of view, and encouraged them to get involved in their community (school, local, state, etc.), then perhaps we could break down some stereotypes of other cultures, improve international relations, and begin to make the world a better place.

Thanks for reading.


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