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Keeping It Real: Teaching Middle East Conflicts with Simulations
Unformatted Document Text:  Keepin' it Real: Teaching the Middle East with Role-plays 1 Anne Marie Baylouny Teaching Middle East politics is challenging not only due to the complexity of the issues and numerous sides involved, but also due to ingrained attitudes of students. Students have difficulty mastering the conflicts and drown in the details of the players, their actions and alliances. Further, the essence of the differing interests making up the conflicts eludes the students' grasp. The rationale for ongoing conflict is unclear even after studying its history and current politics. To promote active learning and effectively teach Middle East conflicts, I utilize simulated role-plays which differ from many other simulations in order to achieve two main educational goals. First, students learn the multi-faceted conflict in all its complexity by playing it out and hearing their fellow students voice actors' positions. This aids in visualizing the various sides and changing alliances. Second, students playing a role view the conflict from the viewpoint of the differing groups, comprehending the group's incentives for continued hostility. Such incentives to continue fighting are often obscured when the conflict is viewed from the macro level, but can be made clear in role-play discussions with other students. Using simulations in the classroom can seem overwhelming. Highly coordinated, technology-driven games are well-publicized and attractive, but beyond the scope of the average professor. They demand planning, time, coordination, technical resources and contacts most of us do not possess (Ellington 1998: 8-9). Yet the pedagogical benefits of simulations need not be forsaken. I have designed simulations that take a minimum of planning and no technology, and can be run by professors who lack teaching assistants or aids. The form can be adapted quickly to new conflicts and differing numbers of players, and inserted into most classes without overhauling the class schedule. These are not negotiations or games. In my version, there is no attempt to reach a solution. Instead, the simulation is designed to demonstrate the grievances and positions of the actors. In addition, these role-plays incorporate actors uninvolved in diplomacy. I expanded the role-play cast of characters for educational purposes, achieving many of the benefits of simulations from these added players alone. By not narrowly focusing on diplomatic negotiations, these role-plays spurred insights into the situation on the ground and empathy for the common people. Most students stated that they had not considered the effect on the average person previously, viewing the conflict and potential solutions purely in terms of superpower diplomacy, military actors, terrorist groups, and governmental actions. Further, this form of simulation is easily adaptable. The formula can be easily changed for use across a wide variety of conflicts and regions. In contrast to elaborate computer simulations, this one is quickly modular, adapting to numerous conflicts, classroom situations, student numbers and abilities. I have run between two and four simulations annually for the past four years. In addition to two basic simulations, I tailor and alter the subjects to address recent and developing conflicts in the Middle East. To further my educational goals, I include players not involved in the negotiations such as the middle class or public. These players have provided a synopsis of the trajectory and differences in how the Lebanese public 1 The views here are those of the author and not those of the US government or any other institutional affiliation. I am indebted to Keely Fahoum for research and data collating. 1

Authors: Baylouny, Anne.
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Keepin' it Real: Teaching the Middle East with Role-plays
Anne Marie Baylouny
Teaching Middle East politics is challenging not only due to the complexity of the
issues and numerous sides involved, but also due to ingrained attitudes of students.
Students have difficulty mastering the conflicts and drown in the details of the players,
their actions and alliances. Further, the essence of the differing interests making up the
conflicts eludes the students' grasp. The rationale for ongoing conflict is unclear even
after studying its history and current politics.
To promote active learning and effectively teach Middle East conflicts, I utilize
simulated role-plays which differ from many other simulations in order to achieve two
main educational goals. First, students learn the multi-faceted conflict in all its
complexity by playing it out and hearing their fellow students voice actors' positions.
This aids in visualizing the various sides and changing alliances. Second, students
playing a role view the conflict from the viewpoint of the differing groups,
comprehending the group's incentives for continued hostility. Such incentives to continue
fighting are often obscured when the conflict is viewed from the macro level, but can be
made clear in role-play discussions with other students.
Using simulations in the classroom can seem overwhelming. Highly coordinated,
technology-driven games are well-publicized and attractive, but beyond the scope of the
average professor. They demand planning, time, coordination, technical resources and
contacts most of us do not possess (Ellington 1998: 8-9). Yet the pedagogical benefits of
simulations need not be forsaken. I have designed simulations that take a minimum of
planning and no technology, and can be run by professors who lack teaching assistants or
aids. The form can be adapted quickly to new conflicts and differing numbers of players,
and inserted into most classes without overhauling the class schedule.
These are not negotiations or games. In my version, there is no attempt to reach a
solution. Instead, the simulation is designed to demonstrate the grievances and positions
of the actors. In addition, these role-plays incorporate actors uninvolved in diplomacy. I
expanded the role-play cast of characters for educational purposes, achieving many of the
benefits of simulations from these added players alone. By not narrowly focusing on
diplomatic negotiations, these role-plays spurred insights into the situation on the ground
and empathy for the common people. Most students stated that they had not considered
the effect on the average person previously, viewing the conflict and potential solutions
purely in terms of superpower diplomacy, military actors, terrorist groups, and
governmental actions. Further, this form of simulation is easily adaptable. The formula
can be easily changed for use across a wide variety of conflicts and regions. In contrast to
elaborate computer simulations, this one is quickly modular, adapting to numerous
conflicts, classroom situations, student numbers and abilities.
I have run between two and four simulations annually for the past four years. In
addition to two basic simulations, I tailor and alter the subjects to address recent and
developing conflicts in the Middle East. To further my educational goals, I include
players not involved in the negotiations such as the middle class or public. These players
have provided a synopsis of the trajectory and differences in how the Lebanese public
1
The views here are those of the author and not those of the US government or any other institutional
affiliation. I am indebted to Keely Fahoum for research and data collating.
1


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