Ninth grade students recently gathered as the culminating experience of an annual two-week long project known as the Middle East Summit. Groups of students were assigned to countries and political organizations from around the world, and were tasked with learning and understanding the respective roles and perspectives in the current conflict in modern Syria. Although the ninth grade history curriculum often examines the ancient world, students employed their understanding of geopolitical conflict and negotiation, the skills of influence and rhetoric, and capacities for empathy and compassion in a modern context as we tackled the very relevant, real-world dilemma.

Represented at the summit were the United States, Russia, Turkey, Kurdish Forces, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, the Islamic State, the European Union, the Syrian Government, and the Syrian Opposition. From these vantage points, students composed responses to questions from real-world UN conventions, eg. “Do you support efforts to convene Syria’s government and opposition to start a political process leading to credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance, followed by a new constitution and election to be administered under UN supervision?” Responses were varied, predicated by the assigned group’s perception and actions in the current conflict.

During the summit, students performed with poise, maturity, and empathy that belies their age, while at once demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of the conflict. Each group reflected with care and precision their assigned country’s or organization’s ideological and tactical standpoint. At the conclusion, a resolution was reached, which would establish a multilateral and democratic government in Syria, but in the process of reaching that resolution, something even more valuable was gained: an appreciation of the complexity of the problem, and a realization that reconciliation through coercion is less tenable than that reached through cooperation and peace.