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Marilyn Benefiel, Project Manager, California International Studies Project (CISP), School of Education
(650) 725-3490 (work), (650) 996-9248 (cell), email:

High school students debate contemporary world issues at Stanford

Four hundred 10th graders, many from low-performing schools, will practice the exacting craft of international diplomacy on campus Saturday, May 10, as they deliberate real-life issues ranging from human rights abuses in China to terrorism.

The Global Forum, which kicks off at 9 a.m. in Kresge Auditorium and continues throughout the day in several campus locations, is the culminating event of the year-long Contemporary World History Project sponsored by the California International Studies Project (CISP) in the School of Education.

Marilyn Benefiel, CISP project manager, said the project is particularly relevant in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "The students tell us that the program has both educated them on the history of the conflict and has helped ease their fears by being an outlet to express opinions," she said.

The state-funded project is aimed at children in "at-risk" schools, Benefiel said. Sophomores participating Saturday represent seven high schools in Northern California, including Silver Creek in San Jose and Mercy in San Francisco. A second forum serving schools in Southern California will take place at California State University-Dominguez Hills in Carson on May 17.

About 18,000 students have participated since the project was established in 1995, Benefiel said. Students attending the forum on campus spend a year studying global problems such as cross-border pollution, international debt and regional conflict management. In class, they take on the identities of representatives from 18 countries, ranging from Pakistan to the United Kingdom and Vietnam, and learn how to argue their respective government's positions. They draft treaties and have online discussions and negotiations with other students in participating schools.

During the Global Forum, the sophomores dress up and assume the negotiating tact of diplomats, defending their nations' policies in a respectful yet persuasive manner. "Sometimes they have to represent positions at odds their with personal opinions," Benefiel said. "They have to listen to other viewpoints. They learn a very different way of interacting with people. It gets them out of the self-awareness mode that most teens have. They acquire conflict-solving and negotiating skills that they can also apply to their personal lives."

CISP is funded by the California Subject Matter Projects, a professional development network for K-12 teachers.



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