Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Empires of Earth: This Summer, the Kids Rule

The United States of America no longer exists. At least, not the country we know as the United States. None of today's countries have survived. In their stead, four empires have divided the world between them. All control the same amount of resources. All can make any choice or perform any action they want. And all are run by children.

This summer, the Education Exchange Corps Summer Academy will house the greatest social experiment ever run at Clay Elementary that we have heard about. Our kids will be divided into four groups comprised of relatively equal numbers of elementary, middle, and high school students. Each of the four groups will manage an empire. They'll name their empires whatever they want, choose whatever government they think appropriate, and determine how national resources should be allocated.

Think a bunch of Kid Presidents.

Each group will be assigned adult advisers, but every decision will be left to the kids, even decisions on how to make decisions. They'll choose whether to launch attacks on other countries, initiate international negotiations, or focus on domestic development. Their decisions will have consequences; an empire that focuses on the happiness of its citizens may be unprepared to defend against an attack by a militaristic empire. An empire that does not determine a process to make decisions may be paralyzed by governmental gridlock or civil war. An empire that supports a strong culture may appeal to the hearts and minds of the globe's citizens.

The empires will also have to deal with world events, some tied to the empires' characteristics as chosen by their managing children. Other events will be related to the interactions between the empires and the crises that inevitably crop up on the world stage. How will an empire that has chosen to govern by dictatorship respond to a rebellion? Will a democracy have an emergency powers doctrine to allow it to respond to an immediate security threat? What if the religious leadership disagrees with the political leaders of an empire--will dissent be tolerated? Will the empires cooperate on global environmental challenges, space exploration, or a variety of other monumental tasks?

Whoa now! These are kids attending a summer academy for four weeks. How are they going to be able to do any of this? Soon after we hatched this idea, we learned of the World Peace Game, which throws elementary school kids into a complex world and asks them to solve 50 interlocking crises. Kids regularly rise to the occasion and become immersed in the game.

Unlike the World Peace Game, our simulation will not ask kids to solve problems. Kids will face global challenges, but the choice to solve those problems or even to make long-term goals will be totally up to them. Our game will end after four weeks, by the end of which anything can happen. I like the concept of the World Peace Game, enough to have purchased John Hunter's book. But I'd like to see what happens in a world where world peace is possible but not valued over other options, where the specter of international competition haunts the hallways with multiple boards comparing the empires' strengths in the military, economy, arts, and sciences, among other measures. 

We won't be leaving the kids totally in the dark. During the program, we will teach the kids about different governments, economies, religions, traditions, and other national characteristics so the kids can make educated decisions about what will characterize their own empires. We will bring in guests to teach lessons and to consult with each empire about their plans. We will introduce kids to the historical empires that came before them and how they managed. We will read, write, do math, all for the sake of the empires' survival. We will give them responsibility and control over what happens this summer.

And then we will watch to see what happens when you put kids in charge of the world. 

Come join us:

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Peace Rally at Northwest Academy of Law

On Thursday, I volunteered at Northwest Academy of Law's Peace Rally. Northwest is a high school located in North St. Louis City. Washington University School of Law has been developing a deep relationship with the high school, and I was asked to help out by a fellow law student. Thursday was my first day visiting the school.

When I walked into the building, I was immediately greeted by several smiling high school students who were eager to help me. I didn't stay inside for long. I was one of the safety volunteers, and I, along with several others, put up barricades in the streets to prevent cars from interfering with the high school march on Riverview.

The Peace Rally begins.
The march was delayed by five, fifteen, then thirty minutes. As we began to wonder if the rally would ever start, suddenly a slowly moving police car appeared on the horizon, with hundreds of kids and community members right behind.

The kids may have been late, but they were ready to march. They shouted slogans involving the buzzwords "responsible," "peace," "resolve," "respect," and, of course, their school name. As this mass of kids passed through the street, people came out of their homes to watch. Firefighters emerged from their station. Drivers who could have been frustrated that they were blocked from using the street smiled when they learned why they had to turn around.

These kids started a neighborhood conversation, one that was full of joy and hope. And one that is desperately needed.

I spoke with some neighbors as the children passed by. When I told them the kids were marching for peace, they were happy and proud, but one also spoke with an urgency subdued by a status quo that has lasted for too long. Just the night before, someone was shooting in the neighborhood, maybe a block or two away from where the kids were marching. Just a handful of days ago, a man was found murdered in a car not too far up the street. One of the children spoke about some of the kids she knew who have died because of teen violence.

This rally was meant to wake up a community--not just those who live around the school, but everyone in St. Louis--and give kids positive, safe options for this summer.

Everyone there was so proud of these kids and the school staff for putting on this event. There are few things more impressive than seeing a group of kids demonstrate leadership and poise in the face of adversity. But the sad truth about St. Louis and many other areas in this country is that so many children live in neighborhoods where their very lives are in jeopardy, where they may have lost a friend or a family member to violence.

It would be a shame for this effort to fade away as just another news piece. That's why our organization will work with the school to offer a few jobs to their high school students as teaching assistants with our summer program. We encourage anyone who can help out to reach out and make a difference for these and so many other kids in St. Louis.

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps