Young female students at Buffalo’s Nardin Academy recently trekked to Chicago to represent Brazil in a Model United Nations conference hosted by University of Chicago students, an exercise in civics that required students to immerse themselves in new cultures and ideas.
Nardin Academy sophomore Sarah Crawford penned a column for The Buffalo News about her time in Chicago with 20 classmates from the upstate New York all-girls school, and the experience of interacting with about 3,000 other teens from across the world, including China, Italy, and elsewhere.
Students from each school represented a country, and delegations spent hours researching and preparing for committee debates on important issues like drug trafficking, nuclear proliferation, and pollution.
Through a process similar to the United Nations, students navigated committee rules and procedures, and crafted resolutions to address world problems.
“Delegates can support a resolution in many ways,” Crawford wrote. “Some choose to offer financial aid to help rectify a problem, while others send military or humanitarian forces. Either way, a resolution is composed of more than just one person’s ideas; the views of many different delegates go into one resolution.”
Committees ranged in size from fewer than 20 countries to more than 100, and resolutions required a majority vote for approval. After 20 hours of committee debate over four blustery days in Chicago, “many resolutions were passed and countless friendships were created,” Crawford wrote. “Although the academic work that went into this conference, and the academic achievements that came out of it, are incredibly important for these teenagers, perhaps more important is the new understanding of different cultures, views, and opinions of delegates from around the world.”
The process of understanding others and negotiating agreement across differences is what James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson describe as “practices” in The Content of Their Character, a summary of research into culture formation in American high schools.
Editors Hunter and Olson, with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, note that researchers observed:
The moral and missional ethos of a school was reinforced through a range of practices, or routinized actions—some formal, some informal—all oriented toward giving tangible expressions to the school’s values and beliefs.
Civic education at Nardin Academy goes beyond classroom lessons about the rules of government to involve students in the practices of offering a perspective, careful research, thoughtful articulation of an argument, and real willingness to understand and negotiate with others in a rules-based order.
As with any civic practice, doing it well takes work. The United Nations Association of the USA has compiled a resource guide to help interested schools understand what the program involves and how to make the most of the opportunity for students.