My Monday lunchtimes are devoted to the Politics and International Relations Society. We get together weekly to discuss a contemporary issue related to geopolitics.
Today was no exception as we discussed the China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In the previous session the members of the Society selected to look at the BRI and examine its rationale and possible consequences. Using our website I was able to share prompts for discussion beginning with this short film from the FT:
Over the course of the past week students were encouraged to read this article by the Council on Foreign Relations, this article from The Guardian, this Forbes article and this report from Week in China.
We began by exploring this initiative and considered the possible advantages for China & the other 60 countries that had signed up or expressed an interest - an incorporation of 2/3 of the world's population. We then looked at the possible disadvantages and contemplated the idea of the BRI as a Chinese Trojan horse and the notion of the BRI as a 'String of Pearls' geo-economic strategy.
The pupils that attend this Society range from age 12-18 and yet there is a level of entry and accessibility for all when I phrase my questions to challenge and include all pupils.
I introduced a new 'Thinking Routine' to help us investigate this issue. This routine is taken from 'The Power of Making Thinking Visible' by Ritchhart and Church. I find this book to be a really valuable tool when trying to foster an environment where critical and creative thinking is a natural process among my students - both online and in a classroom situation.
Ritchhart is a Senior Research Associate at Harvard Project Zero and is concerned with how teachers can develop intellectual character, making thinking visible and promoting deep learning. I used another of the Thinking Routines from the aforementioned book and wrote about it here.
The researchers at Project Zero ask a number of pertinent questions not limited to:
What do thinking and learning look like, and under what conditions do they thrive?
What is understanding and how does it develop?
The Thinking Routine that I used in this session of the Society was the 3 Y's. You can read more about this here:
The '3 Ys' Routine requires that we ask ourselves three questions in order to make connections between and issue (in this case the BRI) and yourself, the community and the world.
This issue is complex and nuanced but thinking in these terms will help students not only to understand their world but also become active agents in shaping it.
I made this video to play on a loop to share the three 'Y' questions below:
The discussion was led by the pupils who wanted to know more about the Chinese hybrid politico-economic situation, the construction in the South China Sea, the balance of power and how this is manifested and why some believe that it is important to maintain not disrupt, the reasons why Communism is sometimes labelled as 'shared poverty' but that capitalist nations also have the potential to create inequality, inequity and injustice. We talked about Trumps' tax payments, Covid-19, NATO military bases, climate change, high speed rail networks and fast fashion.
This session lasted for 40 minutes.
I could see their thinking. They could see their thinking. They could see their peers thinking.
They were making seamless connections and could see the global implications of the BRI.
Making thinking visible is one of the great joys I am experiencing in teaching and running this weekly co-curricular club. Times are tough in education right now but we need to create opportunities for our young people to explore ideas in a safe environment. We need to provide learning experiences that they lead, where their curiosity is allowed to flourish, where they must ask 'why?' and ask it again and again. As educators we do not purport to have all of the answers and demonstrating the verbalisation of our thinking further empowers and emboldens our young people to do the same.