This term, ninth grade history students participated in the annual “Summit” project, in which groups of students inhabit the roles of various countries, stakeholders, industries, and other groups to work toward a hypothetical solution to a real-world geopolitical crisis. This year, students focused on deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon Rain Forest.
Represented at the Summit were major industrial interests, human rights groups, environmental action NGOs, and political parties. Each, from their varied perspectives, was asked to consider questions regarding domestic affairs, management of land rights, and the philosophy of “ownership”; ie., who “owns” the Amazon, and whose responsibility is its stewardship, maintenance, and/or development. With the people of a democratic nation seeking support from their government on one hand and the international community pleading for sustainable growth on the other, Brazil’s current state of affairs is one that resonates around the world.
Additionally, competing views of international relations and diplomacy surfaced, and students asked each other and themselves where (if at all) is it allowable for the international community to manage or limit a country’s economic growth potential for the sake of environmental preservation and the global good.
While fraught geopolitical conflict such as this often leaves the global community feeling as though progress is a zero-sum game, our students were able to exhibit self-interest and altruism in equal measure. During the summit, students performed with poise, maturity, and empathy that belies their age, and they also demonstrated a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand. Each group reflected with care and precision their assigned group’s ideological and tactical standpoint, and while at the conclusion a resolution was not reached, the process of striving toward compromise yielded something even more important: an appreciation of the complexity and urgency of the conflict in the Amazon, and a realization that mutually beneficial solutions reached through compromise and partnership are possible.