Global Classrooms Conference: Act 2

19 03 2011

Onward, young delegates! Onward, points and motions! Onward, magenta business suit!

Yet another bright and early madrileña morning finds delegates and dais alike all chipper jitters pre-debate. My plenary – UNICEF 2, more commonly known as The Best Plenary – gets pointed upstairs and far to the right: the music room. My dais – my ultra-capable Director, Rapporteur, and Staff – contemplates theoretical opening ceremonies on the bongos as we alphabetically place placards. Oh my god, I think I hear the students. Are we seriously gonna be able to pull this off?

Cue the filing in of our thirty delegates, representing fifteen countries from all corners of the globe – from Sudan to Cape Verde to El Salvador to Belgium. They are looking mad sharp in their formal business attire, which lights up the geekiest debater remnants floating around in my skull. My heart she is a-thumping; the dais glances nervously at each other. Do we start? Where’s Somalia?? Who are the native English speakers here anyway???

Five minutes later and Somalia shows, and I listen to myself decisively bring down our stylin’ wooden gavel, calling the 2011 annual Madrid Global Classrooms Conference to order. Rapporteur James calls formal roll – all are present – and assures me that we have quorum. I clear my throat and prepare to center the room’s focus for the next six hours of debate and dicussion regarding our designated topic: Children in Armed Conflict. I’ve prepped a three-minute speech with a good smattering of harrowing imagery, trying to carefully walk the line between the serious nature of the topic and the early morning hour. It goes over well enough, and I proceed to open the Speakers List.

Every placard in the place shoots up – looks like these folks have been properly prompted. James and I do our best to skip around the room to construct a fair order of speakers, because once we get this ball rolling, it’s much more up to the students to determine the flow of the day’s proceedings. The U.K. begins, delivering a 1 minute and 30 second prepared speech on their country’s position – and I’m all of a sudden seeing all those practice rounds and rough drafts manifesting into calm, clear, and composed delegations. Isn’t English these kids’ second language? How can they possibly be discussing global strategy? Even barring that, how can they be speaking at length in front of a crowd of critical peers and judges? My fretting as to whether we would be able to fill the scheduled six hours of debate begins to melt away – these kids are determined to engage on a high level without pause, and I’m a mere loud-mouthed facilitator. It’s a beautiful thing.

The Speakers List moves into a series of moderated caucuses, then several extended unmoderated sessions where the students may rise and move around for more intimate and rapid exchange of ideas, plus planning of the all-important resolutions. After all, that’s the aim here; although technically the delegations are competing for awards at the end, the idea is to reward those representatives that best encourage cooperation amongst the countries. This makes things extra-sticky when the time comes to convene regarding just which delegations merit the dais’ recognition as outstanding – there’s no simple point system here, and my scrawled multi-hued notes have surely missed some key strokes of genius on the parts of various countries. Over a greedily scarfed lunch well-within illicit proximity to the priceless bongos, we manage to come to consensus. Miraculously, so do the quibbling delegations during the final round of debate: we collectively pass two forward-thinking, well-written resolutions. It’s not a mandatory part of the day’s events, but it feels productive; we done good.

Buses zip everyone back to the hoity-toity Asemblea, where the chairs of each plenary are ushered into a prominent position within the horseshoes of seats. After a few deservedly sappy wrap-up speeches from members of the Comunidad de Madrid and representatives from the American Embassy, the spotlight shines to us to present the awards. My quickly-scribbled ditty:

The Chair would like the recognize the honorable delegates from UNICEF Plenary 2, UNICEF Plenary 2, you do NOT have the floor – sorry – but you HAVE impressed me! I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed six hours of discussion regarding theoretical trade embargoes and international monetary funds so much as today. Together, we have passed two – count-em-two! – outstanding resolutions to combat the international issue of children in armed conflict, and it absolutely would not have been possible without your preparedness and professionalism. I could not possibly be more proud.

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Global Classrooms Conference: Act 1

9 03 2011

The Chair rules that motion DILATORY!!!!!

Let’s rewind a tic to last spring and the sneer on my lips upon being informed that I would be working with Madrid’s Model UN program. Given the general complete dearth of interest on the part of American high school students to participate in such an event, how, precisely, was I meant to enthuse and encourage a batch of Spanish teenagers? For god’s sake, they didn’t even speak English.

Skip forward a scene or two or three (you have a one of those fancy DVD clickers, don’t you?). Enter David Hinojar, master of the social sciences and professor extraordinaire. José Luis Sampedro has set up the Global Classrooms program this year as a fully-blown course (as opposed to its previous iteration as an after-school extracurricular), and David is at the helm, trusty Fulbright mateys Laura and Janel at his swashbuckling side.

September sees us talking climate change, assigning countries at random (“North Korea! Poland! Laos!”), and introducing the basic concepts of parliamentary procedure. This last bit activates all kinds of dormant debate geekery in the vestiges of my Lincoln-Douglas inundated high school brain, and I soak up the new series of rules alongside the students. Honorable Chair, Saudi Arabia has a point of personal privilege – can we open a window?

Mid-December brings an informative email from the Comunidad: the two debate topics of the year, Trafficking of Wild Animals and Children in Armed Conflict, along with our list of assigned countries. Laura and I have a decent understanding of the dynamics within our group of precocious cuties at this stage, and we assign accordingly. We advise familiarization over the winter break in between bites of roscón de Reyes, since upon our return we’ll have a mere two months together as a class to make Model UN magic.

January is all position papers and practice. Each pair of delegates composes a single-page document detailing their country’s experience and opinion of the assigned debate topic, each of which goes through three thoroughly revised drafts thanks to serious editing effort on the part of Laura and myself, mostly taking place during the daily Cercanias commute. We also hold what feels like an endless number of practice runs, obligating the students to make use of their country-specific research in conjunction with the newly acquired procedural knowledge (OBJECTION!!!!! … I may be crossing wires, here). I begin flexing my wings as flamboyant chairperson, functioning as both Master of Ceremonies and Keeper of the Pace, cracking the verbal whip when necessary.

The Fulbrighters reconvene for yet another Jornada at the end of the month, wherein the infinitely talented Adam constructs for us a significantly clearer image of how the actual conference will proceed. We here cast ourselves in the various roles of the dais that will convene each of the five plenaries at the conference. The Staff member takes care of note-passing and general running around tasks, the Rapporteur keeps time, the Director handles resolutions, and the Chair bangs the gavel. Was there ever really any other option for this debate nerd at heart?

… to be continued…