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img_0859In several of my previous posts I have talked about the power of simulations in my social studies classes.  All Civics, Government and AP Government teachers need to consider the research which makes plain the power of adding simulations to your courses. Look at Professor Walter Parker’s “Reinventing the High School Government Course.” While normally I can be heard raising my voice for giving teachers (and students!) freedom in their pedagogy and class delivery, and not hedging them in with administrative requirements, in this case I am falling on the side of government mandate: YOU MUST DO SIMULATIONS.! As I have said before, that is now the law for civics education in Illinois. For those already doing simulations of democratic processes, this is a non-issue.  But if, as a teacher, you are not doing them – the research is plain – you are robbing from your students.  You are taking from them something precious which may never find its way into their lives otherwise: the chance to learn from doing, to move beyond the passive compliance of sitting through a lecture.  Especially if you are one of those AP teachers, like I once was, who says, “But I have so much content to cover, I do not have time for simulations and the like!.”  You owe it to yourself to read Parker’s article.

I just finished a simulation with my seniors (in a required course, Civics, not AP students), a part of our Foreign Policy unit, item VII in our curriculum, :“The US and the World.”  I set my room up to be the Situation Room of the White House basement, to hold a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC). This is the first time I tried this simulation.  Each one of the 44 groups in my five civics classes was placed in one of four scenarios:

  1. The nuclear threat of Iran and North Korea
  2. The challenge of trying to bring resolution to the Syrian conflict
  3. Government genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
  4. The problem of worldwide counterfeiting of American goods, including pharmaceuticals and media

Each group was given a several page briefing on the problem, did additional research, and then had to work toward crafting possible solutions.  As trusted members of the Security Council, my students were then directed put their recommendations in writing, to be brought to the attention  of President-elect Trump.  They also had to deliver orally similar remarks before other members of the National Security Council (their peers)…

nsc-situation-roomOn the day of the NSC hearings, I got the permission of my Dean to have Dean’s Assistants guard my doorway each class period, to check the security clearance of my students (their IDs!), and direct them through the metal detector (the doorway!). I made a sign for the center of the briefing table I fashioned which read “National Security Council.” I set the stage, provided the briefing material, and now that they had prepared their recommendations they were entering the high security meeting!

The meeting took place over two class periods. We discussed each of the scenarios one by one each period. There were different groups presenting their policy positions on each of the scenarios to me, President-elect Trump’s liaison.  The other assembled members of the NSC questioned each presentation, and I provided video briefs (short YouTube clips such as this providing background) on the several screens in the Situation Room (C328, my classroom!). Finally a vote was taken to decide which of the recommendations would be put before Mr. Trump.

The simulation created the the atmosphere of a high level security briefing, students were challenged to articulate positions on scenarios with grave consequences for the US and the world, and had to defend those positions before their peers. Many students were genuinely engaged and I’m sure one of the secondary effects of the simulation was the development of a sense of civic responsibility, as they were placed in the shoes of those who represent our nation’s interests. Deciding if and how to defend persecuted ethnic groups in Africa, weighing options to help defuse the Syrian Civil War, and measuring possible responses to the nuclear threats posed by North Korea.

Just a little bit above the normal pay grade of my high school students, thanks to the power of simulation! Because I want to help other social studies and Civics and Government teachers do simulations like these, i have created a new website which I hope will be able to house varieties of resources. Please check it out, currently in its infancy… CIVICS IS BACK: http://www.civicsisback.com .  Feedback welcome!

 

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