Category Archives: education

MUN or how to engage young people in politics!

United Nations is one of the most crucial organisation holding countries together to maintain world’s peace and tackle the problems concerning them. Even if most of their resolutions are not legally binding, its recommendations are taken seriously and also serve as a moral support. There’s no shadow of doubt that it plays huge role in international relationships and have real impact on the world. But do the ordinary people, especially young ones, know a lot about this organization? I don’t think so.

That’s the reason the Model United Nation was created in United States and later spread nationwide. It is a student idea of simulating the meetings of UN with the aim to make young people interested in learning about diplomacy, politics,  international relations and the UN itself. It is extracurricular activity which helps people to connect with each other, share ideas and get a glimpse of how do the big politics work.

For the last three weeks I’ve been away in Berlin, participating in international project in politics and diplomacy. And one weeks was completely devoted to MUN, thus gave me an opportunity to get to know how it really works. Firstly, the committees are divided just as they are in reality – you may be assigned to security council, human rights council or crisis council. There are many of them, depending on the conference you are attending. Then, you are assigned a country which you will be representing. After this moment, you are officially called a ‘delegate’. Last and most important – you are given the topics of the discussion. And the real work begin.

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The opening speech, resolutions and notes.

The Model United Nations procedures works similar to the UN procedures. Dress code is formal and delegations are given specific amount of time to speak. In short – they act as it was real. This is the way to make young people ( mostly from high schools and undergraduate programs) interested in politics and real world’s problems. The event teaches you a lot – at least that was my case. The skills you acquire are long-lasting and useful for your future career. First, the research. Something that you have to do for the university, for your boss or your writings. You will learn critical thinking and how to find the sources of information that are trustworthy. After you’ve gathered the facts, you have to present them. For me, it is the most important skill I learned during MUN – public speaking. Making opening speech, stating your country’s position on the issue, may not be that hard, but defending your points during general discussion definitely is. And let’s not forget how many times in real life you have to convince people you are right . I learned you must not be afraid to speak up and voice your own arguments, even if later proven wrong.

The most important factor that makes Model United Nations so special is the fact that it gathers young people, interested in similar problems together. When you are among those who have various political views and opinions, maybe know more than you do, it makes you motivated to be creative, to learn and to come up with new ideas. It improves your leadership and oratory skills – lobbying time, finding your allies and introducing new amendments to resolution, it all requires certain abilities. And also teamwork is not to be overlooked. Even if you have the brightest ideas how to solve every existing problem, without support of others you will lead you nowhere. Learning how to cooperate with coworkers is probably the most useful thing you may learn here.

All in all, Model United Nations is great idea to gather people from different background, all working together to form better future for their countries and the world. Some of them may end up dealing with it in their professional lives, while others may only treat is as an adventure. Either way, it cannot leave any participant indifferent and disappointed.

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Winnetou and the stereotyping of Native Americans

Who was the first people to dwell the continent of North America? Famous Pilgrim Fathers? Not really. The oldest inhabitants are Native Americans who lived peacefully with nature, worshipping Mother Earth and Great Spirit. Children listen to the stories of brave Chiefs and Pocahontas’ love. We seem to forget that they are still normal people, living in today’s world, not only in legends and myths.

The ordinary people’s knowledge about Indigenous people comes from literature and films. They perceive them as all looking the same – black, straight hair, with no facial hair, with the same colour of skin. To a large extent, these stereotypes are based on famous stories by Karl May “Winnetou”, a German teacher who wrote innumerable novels about Native Americans in the 19th century. Interestingly, May had never seen Native Americans with his own eyes. Westerns and documentaries in general have tended to portray Natives in stereotypical terms: the wise elder, the aggressive drunk, the Indian princess, the loyal sidekick, obese and impoverished. These images have become known all across North America. Stereotyped issues include simplistic characterizations, romanticizing of Native culture and stereotyping by omission—showing American Indians in a historical rather than modern context. We still tend to think about them as “Indians” which is  now commonly considered pejorative.

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A series of stories about Wild West by Karl May.

Some of the tribes had very well-developed societies as for example Sioux had. Their government was divided equally – men were chiefs, but they were dependent on women that chose them and stripped of power if needed. It is said that Siox people influenced the first constitution of United States. Besides, it was Native Americans, especially one – named Squanto who taught first white men on the territory how to survive on land where their seeds wouldn’t grow and the land seem hostile. So why they had to be put through so much?

Colonisation always involves killing, territorial expansion and eradication of culture. That’s more of less history of Native Americans. White men wanted the land – more and more of it, moving the boundaries of where red-skinned people lived, killing many in the process.The interesting thing is that contrary to the popular belief,  Indians have not mostly been killed by gunfire, but died of white men’s diseases and alcohol which they were vulnerable to. Another black mark on the history is residential schools in Canada. Created in 1870’s by Catholic church and Canadian government, these places were destined “to kill Indian in the child”. And more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were taken from their families and treated them as subhuman. Many reported emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The last school was closed not so many years ago, in 1996.

Moreover, the stereotypes have real impact on Indigenous people’s lives. As for example, Indigenous women are considered to be sexually available and willing to have intercourse with any and every man. Such misconceptions lead to murder, rape and violence of Native women and girls by non-Native men. But the physical violence is not the only damage done to Indigenous people. Stereotypes become discrimination when the assumptions of being more prone to violence and alcoholism limit job opportunities. This leads directly to Indians being viewed less stable economically, making it more difficult for those that have succeeded to fully enjoy the benefits is the same way that non-Indians do, such as obtaining credit. The government also spend statistically less on their kids’ education in comparison to other children. Even though it is commonly said that in return for their land, natives get some benefits that other do not, it is certainly not true.

In the heat of the debate about their rights and its infringements, we seem to forget that they are all people like us. To fight the stereotypes, in the 1980s and 1990s, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation made efforts to improve the portrayals of Aboriginal people in its television dramas. Spirit Bay, The Beachcombers, North of 60 and The Rez used Native actors to portray their own people, living real lives and earning believable livelihoods in identifiable parts of the country. Unfortunately many of accurate portrayals even if critically acclaimed are not widely distributed and existing in mainstream. Although, there are few exceptions, for example one of the most popular song from American rock band, Anthrax named “Indians” that is about injustice in treating Indigenous people.

In the age of globalisation, when no matter which end of the continent you are currently in, you have the same Starbucks and the same menu in the restaurants, preserving your culture and traditions is very rare. Let’s sometimes look up to those who have suffered so much and still want to live in harmony with nature, being grateful for the world.

 

Dress code

The summer has begun. The scorching sun makes people all sweaty and looking for a fan or a seat near the window. It is natural the higher the temperature goes, the scantier the people dress (within reason, of course). But the problem appears when men are allowed to go shirtless and women are frowned upon when they put on shorts or a top with moderate cleavage. It is especially visible in schools, as in workplaces people are usually dressed in a way it is acceptable for the company, although it is not always a rule. But when a teenager, who already kicks against all possible rules, is told what he is to wear, it cannot end well.

Dress code is sometimes necessary and understandable, as for example in politics or marketing, in situations when you have to deal with customer or represent a big company or political party. Then you must look professional, but being professional doesn’t have to mean that you must wear the same attire in summer and in winter. For example French police officers have two kinds of uniforms – one with light materials and with short sleeves for the warmer part of the year and one more ‘heavy’, for wintertime. It is a solution which is very good for both image of institution and for people working on behalf of it. There are also some initiatives to make employees more comfortable not only in their clothes, but in company in general, such as allowing the workers to dress more casually on Fridays.
The way one dress is very important for an individual, and the right to wear whatever you want is as important as the freedom of speaking your mind.

The high schools and their expectations of how their attendants should look like is a completely different story. Firstly, we have young people who aren’t necessarily willing to comply with what the principal says is allowed and what is not. Some schools have their uniforms and nobody have any problem with it. But in most of them, there are only some rules what you cannot dress, rules which majority breaks. The question is if these regulation follow the common sense or not, and if they treat everybody the same way. Making girls put on so-called modest attire when boys are allowed to wear almost anything and giving an argument that any part of women’s (girls in high school age are almost adult, at least in terms of appearance) body which is not covered would distract their male peers or male teachers is ridiculous. It is a claim that men have no brain to tell them that they shouldn’t touch anyone without their consent and excusing such actions by putting the guilt on females.

The problem also lies in the language we use while addressing such issues. Few moths ago, all Internet talked about a 16-year-old girl who was offended when their principal used the phrase ‘the modest the hottest’, as a mean to get the girls to cover their bodies. But it is somehow inappropriate to use such sexually-connotated word to get what he wants. Especially as most girls in that age already have low self-esteem and such sentences are very unlikely to improve their situation, making them ashamed of their bodies.
Another thing is how teachers address these who violate these rules and for example come to school in shorts or leggings – some make humiliating remarks like ‘why you are wearing panties in school?’ or even tell them to put on shorts when they have leggings (but that one is extreme). Let’s have some mutual respect, teachers towards pupils and vice versa.

It is obvious that we cannot let everything pass without a word, some rules must be followed in order to ensure safety and good atmosphere in class. But going too far in one or other way will do no good. Neither very strict nor very liberal policy towards the clothes is good. School should ensure that their pupils know how to dress appropriately for it will be required of them afterwards, and also that each of them have some freedom to express himself or herself through their clothing. Both things should be learned at high school and be obvious in adult life.

Let’s abolish all the final exams!

The May is coming to an end and the final exams are something that now occupies minds of most of young people. Some of them have already passed all of them, while others are still cramming for the remaining ones. But are these big tests really that important?

The answer for that question is not as simple as you may think. There’s been a lot of criticism of schools lately, because they are said to be getting more and more exam-oriented. They are simply focusing on the end of year examination and everything they do throughout the year has some connections with it.

On the other hand, it is very important for the students to get the best marks possible. Why? The most obvious reason is that the better your marks are now, the wider will be the range of universities wanting you and the more likely you are to get a well-paid job on today’s unstable job market. The next would probably be the parents’ expectations and personal ambitions. The A levels or the equivalents are treated as the most important moment in one’s education. Not everyone will go further to get a degree and there’s a lot of pressure on getting the highest marks possible.

Teachers are judged on grounds of their students’ achievement, so it is perfectly understandable why they put so much emphasis on doing all types of exercises that improve learners’ ability to do well on an exam rather than on learning more facts and information that are useful in the future studies or work. The tests themselves are getting more and more complicated as it comes to structure, and less reliable as an indicator of potential of a future attendant of university. The exams are bad, bad, bad – everybody complains about them, but let’s be realistic – what other possibility do the we have to select the best pupils? Talking with each student would take too much time as the candidates almost always outnumber the places available. Setting entrance exam is basically doing the same thing, but in other time. And using personal statement and teacher’s reference as the only requirement would be simply foolish.

But what’s so wrong with it? It’s long been that way – you are taught, you learn, and you are required to show how much you’ve learned. And it works just like that since our first years in school. And since we don’t have any choice, we should just lay it to rest.And if you want to rebel – you’ll end up failing a year. At least, it is how I see it.