As part of our project on the refugee crisis, I had the kids do a role play this week and they blew me away. The scenario was a simplified version of what we are experiencing at the moment:
I put them into four groups representing 1) the refugees and migrants, 2) the government of Country A, 3) the government of Country B, and 4) international relief organizations like the Red Cross or UNICEF. Each group got an article and a list of various opinion statements to read. They had an hour to work on their positions, reasons, and proposals. I sent them off to separate corners to prepare, thinking “Oh my god, what have I done? – this is way too hard for them!”
But then, as I walked around from group to group, it struck me how focused and seriously they were working. They asked smart questions and slipped more and more into their roles. The Country B group, in particular, geared themselves up to do some play acting and to say things they didn’t really feel or believe.
As they worked, I set up a serious looking conference table, complete with group-name tags, maps with statistics, and a little replica of the Statue of Liberty in the center. At the arranged time, they all came to the table and took their seats, and then . . . silence.
“Why don’t we start with the refugees?” I asked. “Can you tell us where you are? How did you get there? What it is like there? and What do you want?”
One girl from the group slowly started to speak and then picked up the pace as she got into her role. Suddenly she was interrupted by Leo from Country B.
“How do we know if you are all refugees? You could be from anywhere!”
Then Anja from the same group piped up. “I believe what my colleague means to say is . . . .”
From that point on I could just sit back and listen. They went at it for over an hour. They brought up the Geneva Convention and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They discussed whether it is better to break those rules or the asylum policy agreement of the European Union. They talked about borders and the Schengen countries’ shared concerns. They argued about push and pull factors of migration. They talked about the source of the crisis and whether they had contributed to it – whether they were partly responsible. They came up with reasonable proposals and possible solutions.
And they never once got distracted or silly.
Near the end it became clear to them that they weren’t likely to find a solution. I asked them if anyone wanted to say something before we ended the role play and then said “Okay. You can drop your roles now and say anything you want.”
Anja immediately exploded. She almost shouted “I DON’T BELIEVE A SINGLE THING I JUST SAID!!” And then she smiled and laughed. We all did. Another boy added, “Boy! Politics makes everything so hard!”
Did I mention that they are all 12 and 13 years old?