Who Will Take the Heat?


For this blog, I wanted to look for an activity that addressed some of the things we talked about during our last class about environmental education. As a class, we discussed the degree to which we should include environmental education in schools, which led to an interesting conversation about priority of values and if teaching about climate change is pushing a political agenda in the classroom. To address that concern, I found an experiential learning lesson plan from PBS about environmental political negotiation called “Who will take the heat?” Here’s the link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/worldbalance/roleplay/heat.html.

This is a policy negotiation role-play activity, and the players are the US, China, environmental movement, and international business. This activity requires the reading/discussion skills of high school or college students. For the first part of the activity, students are broken into groups and given readings for one of these four roles. Students should understand that this is a role-play, not a debate, and the lesson defines negotiation as “a process in which two or more parties seek to understand one another’s interests and create options that will reduce or remove a conflict between them.” In teams, students have to figure out what is most important to their group, what they could compromise on, and propose solutions. Before the negotiation, they go over the following terms:

  • Interests: What a group wants and its reasons for wanting them.
  • Beliefs: There are two types of beliefs—values and truths. Values are the group’s belief that it has a “right” to something or a belief in the way the world “should” be. Truth is its understanding of how and why things happen and how the world “is.”
  • Identities: These are the words a group uses to name itself and encompasses its history, culture, qualities, and characteristics.
  • Emotions: This is how a group feels about something.

Then, the teams come together in order to create a solution that fits the necessities of all of the groups. As it says in this lesson plan, this part might extend over more than one class period.

After the negotiation, the class should debrief by talking about what went well and what could have been better in the negotiation, as well as a discussion of some of the major points that were brought up. There is also a closing evaluation, and the site gives a few different options for that. Personally, I would like to close this activity by having the students pick a solution that they agreed with from the negotiation and write about their role in real life would be in the commitment. This would require them to reflect on their level of engagement with climate change, and this might create a sort of negotiation with the self about what we are and are not willing to do.

I appreciate that the activity implies that something must be done to limit our harm to the environment, but it lets students come to their own decision about what must be done about it. It does not really push a political agenda, but forces students to take on a role in a real world issue. Through discussion and negotiation, students realize how environmental policy works. The negotiation skills they will learn from this activity will be useful for them as well.

I think this class fits well into our class themes of environmental sustainability and conflict resolution. It forces students to look at environmental sustainability on a global scale, then with the closing activity that I chose, makes them apply what they learned to their own lives. At the heart of the activity is peaceful negotiation and mediation of conflicting ideals. Students have to learn how to compromise to get what they want and to listen to others.

Peace Learner Commitments

The above podcast was recorded on Wednesday, November 14th 2012 during the Peace Pedagogy (EDU-596) course I facilitate each year at American University.  As a final assignment for the class I asked each student to develop what I called a “Peace Learner Commitment.”  A Peace Learner Commitment is:

“…a pledge to yourself, and shared with our community, to achieve a goal that seeks to build and foster peaceable learning environments.  This environment can be built in the classroom, your community, among your peers, with your family, in the work place, or for yourself.  The choice is yours.

“The key is for an element of this course that resonated with you – skill, content, activity, attitude, technique, perspective, etc. – to bear fruit outside of the (tiny) classroom we shared this semester.”

In the podcast each student shares what their commitment is.  And listening to this podcast, I can honestly say that it has been a privilege spending an entire semester with this outstanding, kind, and inspirational group of learners. The 14 students all came to the course for different reasons, with different needs, and from different professional and academic backgrounds.  Given the diversity of the learning goals and needs, as the professor for the course I really had to give deep thought to what kinds of assignments were going to actually be useful to the class.

Stand Up and Speak Out


After reviewing my own reflections for our Peace Learner Agreements I decided that this program anti-discrimination and bullying program known as Stand Up Speak Out (SUSOSH) that I was involved with is something that I am proud of. It deserves recognition, and I believe that it should be implemented in other schools in communities across the country. It is relevant to peace education because of the long-term goals related to the seven pillars: community building, exploring approaches to peace, re-framing history, and transforming conflict non-violently, and lastly building life skills.

[Taken from the Minneapolis South High School website:] http://south.mpls.k12.mn.us/activities_s-z Stand Up Speak Out South High (SUSOSH) is a student driven peer education event at South High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Led by a core group of students on the SUSOSH Leadership Committee and staff advisors, SUSOSH trains over one hundred students in the art of peer education regarding homophobia, sexism, racism, and disability awareness. For two days, these peer leaders facilitate workshops for the entire student body of South High School in hopes of raising awareness and igniting change in the community. SUSOSH participants are committed to social justice at an unprecedented level at South High School.

SUSOSH, started as an initiative by the Gay Straight Alliance, Student Government, National Honor Society and Corinth Matera a dedicated, and well-respected teacher at South High. Based on student and teachers noticing an increase in vulgar and offensive language being used in the hallways of Minneapolis South High the conversation began of how we could transform our school environment to be more accepting and respectful of all people.

I think that this initiative can be implemented in many different learning environments but it is best done in middle and high schools where students and teachers can work together to create a comprehensive and effective social justice action plan to engage students of various backgrounds and grade levels. That way it is structured and can lead the way for transformational change and peace throughout an entire school or institution, not simply in one class or one group of students. As far as how to incorporate this into a class, I think that the need has to be there and a drive from students as well a support from faculty and staff members. Otherwise, there won’t be positive response from students if they don’t see positive leadership from their peers.

One year later, after local teen suicides related to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender bullying, South High was recognized for its anti-bullying measures related to SUSOSH. http://www.shsoutherner.net/news/2010/11/09/south-students-respond-to-recent-suicides/

After exploring this concept of Standing Up and Speaking Out I discovered a similar program on the edutopia site http://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-justice-lessons-activities-resources-rebecca-alber aimed at teachers to help better develop social and emotional learning through social justice lesson plans and resources.

How can this program be implemented in other schools? Who is responsible for doing this? How can we spread the word?

Peace Players International



When I was in 9th grade I took part in the Jewish Youth Philanthropy Institute. With 25 peers we were tasked with donating a certain amount of money to what we considered worthy non-profits. The catch was that we were being asked for more than we had, and we had to allocate our money wisely. Growing up I played a lot of sports, so I feel in love with one organization, Peace Players International (PPI). 14 year old me loved the idea of combining conflict resolution and sports, and the concept has stuck with me for all these years. PPI’s motto is simple – “Children who can play together can learn to live together.” What started as an idea between 2 brothers from Washington DC turned into an international movement, with programs located in Northern Ireland, Israel / West Bank, Cyprus and South Africa.

Each region provides a diverse set of learning opportunities for ‘would be’ conflict communities. The primary focus of the sports programs are designed for youth between the ages of 6 and 14. By creating opportunities in a non-formal setting, PPI creates long-term relationships between its participants, even offering ‘graduate’ programs on leadership in the community for those who are too old for the original curriculum. One problem PPI faces is “exceptional” thinking. Too often participants think their teammate is the “exception,” and that the rest of the ‘other group’ is bad. Coaches emphasize making sure lessons stick off the court by encouraging their students to think “outside the box” and develop a way of “interacting with those around us that honors both others’ humanity and our own responsibility for change.”

As an educator programs such as these encourage the concept of peace building through cooperation necessary to accomplish a common task. Whether it’s scoring a basket, completing a puzzle or writing a group paper, the objective is the same: teaching students how to work together. What I particularly enjoy about PPI is the incorporation of the bodily kinesthetic side of students, which is often difficult to present in a traditional classroom setting.  And the curriculum can be tailored to the needs of the community. In South Africa, athletes are taught about making healthy decisions and HIV/AIDS education. In Northern Ireland, students focus on how to handle “the complexities of growing up in a post-conflict society.”

South Africa – http://www.peaceplayersintl.org/locations/south-africa

Northern Ireland – http://www.peaceplayersintl.org/locations/northern-ireland

When looking at the 7 pillars of peace education, PPI is built around community building and transforming conflict non-violently. By giving the youth within conflict communities an opportunity to build their own perceptions of the conflict in a nonviolent way on the court, PPI reshapes the future discussion between the parties. Often times conflict is so rooted with in the culture and fabric of peoples history that the best way to break the cycle of conflict is by giving children the chance to build relationships in their own way. Their team becomes their community. A diverse community that sets the example that the two sides cannot just peacefully coexist, but thrive and succeed together. While studying abroad in Israel and seeing first hand the separation between Israel and the West Bank it is inspiring to see children creating a possibility of peace in the future through success on the basketball court.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqhyDArfvfA – PPI was even featured on an ESPN segment about Conflict in the Middle East. The 5 minute segment has some very interesting interviews from coaches, athletes and parents.