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The current Syrian conflict is the worst humanitarian disaster since WWII, and has caused one of the largest refugee crises in history. Massive suffering could be ended if the Syrian war could be stopped, the world could be made safer, moved away from World War 3. But how can this horrible Civil War be brought to end?  Can the death toll of half a million be stifled, can the flow of millions of refugees be stopped and families be allowed to move home, to rebuild in peace?  Many experts say “No!”

Our planet’s previous worst humanitarian disaster, the Bosnian war, was, to a large extent, brought to an end through the work of one man – diplomat Richard Holbrooke. A former adviser to President Bush, and now a professor at the Univ. of Chicago, Robert Pape, (@CPOST_UChicago) told me, when I asked what he would do to bring the Syrian conflict to an end, that there is no Holbrooke on the current scene. Incredible! A presidential adviser was telling me that the Syrian Civil War could be ended if the right person was at the diplomatic helm! Robert Pape was answering for me the question, “Does history make men, or do men make history?”.  I was energized! I began talking to my students about developing their right brain skills, especially “concert”, the ability to get warring parties together, the ability to bring harmony. I began telling some of them to think about someday working for the Department of State and to think about becoming diplomats. “You can make a difference. Some problems may never be solved if you don’t get involved! The world is disconnected, waiting for you to reconnect it.”

So in my four Civics classes we are entering our final week, finishing Unit 7, The U.S. and the World.  I have assigned to the 35 groups that exist in these four classes a project which will act as their final exam: Solve the Syrian Civil War! I gave them several briefings, and told them to come up with a plan to end the Syrian War. The first day they worked together in their groups I was gone from school. The substitute left a note to tell me how interesting it was to listen to them dialogue about ending the war. My classroom is becoming like a high level National Security Council  They must submit their plan to me before their final exam period.  Then I will review their plan and feedback to them with some suggested changes, or perhaps a scenario, and then they must respond to this during their actual final exam period.  Trying to “solve” the Syrian Civil War is like playing three-dimensional chess. This simulation is stretching students and forcing them to wrestle with the complexity of a real-world problem. There were a great variety of solutions offered to bring this War to and end. I think one purpose served by this assignment that I never had originally considered is to teach kids by the experience gained in laboring over a real world problem, that there are no simple solutions, no magic bullets.  It will keep them from becoming armchair quarterbacks, backseat drivers, or, as some have pejoratively said, “snowflakes.”

The Syrian War has brought unimaginable sorrow into our world.  It is worth any effort to bring it to an end.  This week my students are fulfilling one of the sayings of the generation of my youth: “Give peace a chance!”

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