Doors to Diplomacy: Youth Envisioning the Preferable Future
By Yvonne Marie Andrés, Ph.D.
“Students investigate controversial issues with an unbiased view, present various perspectives for diplomatic solutions and then select the solutions that they believe to be the most viable.”
If you construct your vision of reality from the daily print and broadcast media information stream, you might be convinced that humanity is doomed. How can we possibly rise above the perils of corrupt politicians and business leaders, out-of-control global warming, dying oceans, economic depression, conspiracy theories, worldwide health pandemics, and irrational terrorist threats?
Yet while many adults face these important issues with pessimism and inertia, middle school and high school students worldwide are embracing optimism and action through Doors to Diplomacy
, an educational challenge with participants in more than 70 countries.
The U.S. Department of State sponsors the annual competition to encourage youth to produce original online projects that educate others about the importance of international affairs and diplomacy. Students investigate controversial issues with an unbiased view, present various perspectives for diplomatic solutions and then select the solutions that they believe to be the most viable. They work in small teams with teacher-coaches and compete for scholarships and cash awards. Judging is performed by student peers and educational professionals, with the final selections made by a team of State Department judges from the Bureau of Public Affairs. The program is co-sponsored and managed by the non-profit Global SchoolNet Foundation
(a href="http://www.gsn.org">www.gsn.org>). A library containing thousands of student projects has been produced during the eight years that the program has been in existence is available free of charge as learning tools to millions of people around the globe.
Doors to Diplomacy program provides innovative and localized web-based curriculum that integrates standards-based coursework, creates opportunities to apply core skills to real world situations, involves students in assessment, and allows for collaboration, higher-order thinking, and problem solving. This constructivist learning model increases student motivation, productivity, academic achievement, and global literacy. Participants find that they must often use diplomacy to determine what content to include in their projects. "Uzbekistan: Opaque Reality," created by a diverse team of students from Tashkent, Zimbabwe, and Seoul, provides background on international human rights and their importance to society. It also tells about the status of human rights in Uzbekistan, its development, implementation, and violations. One of the students reported, “This was a big challenge for us, because many people we interviewed asked us not to use their names. They were afraid of the consequences. So, we decided to conduct an anonymous survey.”
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell encouraged youth to familiarize themselves with international relations, saying “Get a sense of the broader world in which you live—out of your community, out of your neighborhood, out of this country, and give yourself a sense of what foreign policy is all about and how the United States has to work with some 190 nations around the world and look at all it takes to keep our foreign policy on track.”
What are some issues that youth are concerned about?
• “History of Foreign Relations: Past, Present, Future” was produced by students from Kendallville, IN, who created an interactive tutorial to demonstrate how throughout history diplomacy has “not been easy, it has been essential.” Teacher coach Robert Waterly added, “The welfare of all people depends upon the efforts of our world leaders and it is drastically important that we educate students about world affairs and other cultures.”
• "A Study of Security Council Diplomacy," was created by La Jolla High School, La Jolla, CA, juniors, who researched important historical events, including the Suez Canal Crisis, Korean Crisis, Iran-Bahrain Crisis, Cuban Missile Crisis, Nicaraguan Crisis, and the Kosovo Crisis. "The students acquired in-depth knowledge about major international crises in the past and learned how different countries in the Security Council used diplomacy to respond to the incidents," said teacher Rich del Rio.
• Students from Notre Dame Academy in Toledo, OH, designed "Vaccinations for Nations," to provide awareness about the diseases that ravage innocent children.
• “The Fight Against Radiation” website was built by a team of students from Joan Ekzarh Language School in Vratsa, Bulgaria, to investigate the relationship between nuclear energy and ecological issues.
• “Pier2Pier” was developed by a team of students from Plantation High School in Plantation, FL, to raise awareness of the threats to marine environments.
• “Captain Water” was built by a team from Tyrone, GA to provide an in-depth view of water as a vital environmental resource.
• “Preserving Arts and Culture of Minangkabau,” by a team from Padang, Indonesia, explores the diplomatic value of arts and culture exchanges.
The project can be implemented as required coursework, as an enrichment program, or as independent study. Since most of the work is done offline, technology does not have to be a limitation. In 2006, the State Department presented a special collaboration award to Mfantsipim School in Ghana to applaud the team’s ability to overcome major obstacles to participate in the competition. Students in San Diego helped the Ghanaian students with the technical aspects of their project, “Soccer and Its Power,” which demonstrates the role that sports play in diplomacy.
Doors to Diplomacy provides a rigorous and relevant curriculum incorporating research, analysis, writing, mapping, and organization skills. It stimulates students to move outside the normal classroom range of activities by engaging them in the creation of the “preferable” future.
Registration for Doors to Diplomacy is now open; projects are due March 20, 2010.
Yvonne Marie Andres, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the (not-for-profit) Global SchoolNet Foundation. An educator for two decades, Andres has taught pre-school through university and is dedicated to discovering, demonstrating, and documenting the power of online collaborative learning. She is co-founder of Global SchoolNet, producer of the Global Schoolhouse website, Doors to Diplomacy, the International Schools CyberFair program, and has provided leadership at conferences and workshops throughout the U.S., Canada, Asia, Europe, Australia, South America and Africa. Dr. Andres was most recently named one of the 25 most influential people, worldwide, in education technology.