A United Nations role-play brings to life the challenges of creating social justice and helps students learn to use opponents’ statements to bolster their own arguments.
Background: Should child soldiers be prosecuted for war crimes? This essential question guides a unit on Catholic teaching on rights and responsibilities. Before the role-play, we read the Vatican human rights letter Pacem in Terris and compare the rights and responsibilities outlined with those in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Students understand that both documents support self-determination, family preservation and a truthful government. These documents also help hone students’ compare/contrast and classification skills, and frame a discussion on how the conception of rights differs between church and state.
We also look at the legacy of African colonialism and read UNICEF documents on child soldiers—who they are, what they do and how they become involved in conflict.
The students read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. The memoir allows us to ponder a more challenging question: What should be done with victim-perpetrators? Should we hold child soldiers accountable for war crimes if their rights were violated first?
Role-Play: The role-play helps students begin framing arguments for and against prosecuting child soldiers for war crimes. It also addresses an English standard—use another’s argument to bolster your own argument. Students are randomly placed into six groups: UNICEF, the Vatican, former child soldiers, warlords, the government of Sierra Leone and diamond traders. They are told to present a position to the United Nations supporting or rejecting a resolution to prosecute child soldiers for war crimes.
The groups take 45 minutes to prepare their argument using class materials. They are required to stay in character during both work time and the United Nations role-play. They are expected to anticipate the arguments of other groups, address other groups’ shortcomings or work on ideas that support their group’s position.
Each group has five minutes to make its case to the United Nations. “Talks” follow, and groups mingle and form coalitions that might help them restate/reframe their resolution position.
During the role-play, students complete a handout outlining their argument, other groups’ arguments and how they can either discredit other positions or use them to bolster their own. They integrate this information into a second round of five-minute presentations.
The result: A consistently engaging activity. Students actively participate, negotiate and present nuanced arguments.
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is available online.
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