Political Studies Class Gets Real
Year-end class finishes with signing of Israeli-Palestinian peace accord
On Monday, April 11, 2005, one of the top ten headlines in the Globe and Mail reads "Sharon, Bush talk peace." Little do they know that on the previous Friday at Trent University, the 50 year-old crisis in Middle East was resolved – the "Trent Accord" signed by the Israelis and the Palestinians at 1:30 p.m. to cheers and applause, hugs and handshakes.
Of course, Ariel Sharon was played by Trent student Penar Musaraj, and Ryan Katz-Rosene was in his role as Mahmoud Abbas, but such substitutes are necessary in the fourth year Political Studies class called "Government and Politics in the Middle East."
The peace accord is the culmination of months of work on the part of the Trent students under the guidance of Professor Feyzi Baban. Professor Baban dreamed up the exercise to give his students a real understanding of how the peace process works – and how complex the issues truly are. After studying the history of the region for the better part of the academic year, students launch into role-playing, discussions, meetings, and even a full-fledged peace conference. The finale for the course is the negotiation and signing of a Peace Accord worked out in a highly realistic manner between the parties.
In the final statements prior to signing the accord, a representative of the United States reads from a lengthy legal document outlining the framework of the agreement. Everything from borders, statehood and sovereignty to security, settlements and water resources is covered in the document which is appended with maps illustrating the new territories. Knowing that you're looking at the product of a class project doesn't dampen the impact of the names Ahmed Qurei, Shimon Peres, Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon on the final page of the agreement. It gives you goose-bumps just to imagine it.
In the well-appointed AJM Smith room, with the presence of reporters and photographers, the real-life quality of the exercise comes across.
"If I give the class a lecture on the previous peace accords, they would probably forget everything even before the lecture is over," says Prof. Baban. "By assuming roles and by becoming part of the process, they not only learn details of various peace accords but they also understand the restrictions and limitations that have an impact on the overall process. This is a lesson in real life politics."
Students see a real benefit from the exercise. Mr. Katz-Rosene, who played Mr. Abbas, is amazed at how role-playing cemented the learning he had done earlier in the year. "You read the whole text, you study the history of the conflict, but it's in getting into the nitty-gritty details and taking on characters that you come to a real understanding of the issues," he says.
Allan Bevan played the role of a Hamas militant with the ultimate goal of disrupting the peace process. "It was terrifying," says Mr. Bevan, "to see how such a smart, intelligent individual could justify destruction. When you play the role, you see why this could make sense to this person. He is logical, calculated -- not at all insane."
Following the presentation and signing of the document, the room is filled with excitement and it is clear that all the delegates who have contributed to the accord have learned something profound in the process. As they munch on celebratory sandwiches and eagerly review the highlights of their journey together, there is a sense that, while they know that the road to resolution is difficult, it is more important to have learned that it's possible.
Prof. Baban feels that this type of experience is part of the fabric of Trent. "Of course, our small class sizes at Trent allow me to implement such an intense exercise," he says. "During the exercise, students spend large hours working together outside the class room. This helps them to develop a strong sense of community which is an essential part of effective learning."
Mr. Katz-Rosene adds that there are other campuses in Canada where this type of course could not take place. "It's the environment at Trent that provides us with the ability to do this -- to study these issues, not emotionally, but from an academic perspective."
Posted April 12, 2005