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Boyer Teaches Delicate Art of Diplomacy Via Web-Based Program
November 15, 1999

Perhaps emboldened by a private message sent to them by Argentinian negotiators, a delegation of Chinese officials discussing human rights with about a dozen other nations on Monday snapped off a tough reply to a team from the United States. The message was pointed and well researched. As it flashed across the computer screen at Stafford High School, the four "Argentinians" whooped with delight.

"That was the best insult of the day," howled Brian DaRos Jr., 16, of West Stafford. "Can you spell 'destroyed?'"

DaRos, along with Jessica Lee, 16, Kyle Centaro, 17, and Joe Weyant, 17, all juniors at the high school, comprise the official negotiating team from Argentina in this year's Connecticut Project in International Negotiations simulation. The project, known as CPIN, is operated under the auspices of UConn's political science department and Mark Boyer, an associate professor of political science who has run the program for Connecticut schools since it began in 1992.

CPIN conducts computer-assisted foreign policy simulations for high school and college students. These simulations employ an active-learning approach to international relations and diplomatic training and highlight the cross-cultural difficulties inherent in international negotiation.

Extensive Preparation
The "game," played twice a year among up to 30 high schools in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York, pits students primarily in social studies and history classes against each other as international negotiators. And, although the actual confrontations - the conferences often become contentious - last only about five weeks each semester, students and teachers involved in the simulation spend the entire semester either preparing for negotiation sessions or discussing the various situations that were encountered, after the conferences end.

The knowledge the students glean from the program has been exceptional. And, since Boyer began taking advantage of the Web four years ago - allowing the conferences to occur in real time, and opening up thousands of sources students can access to learn about "their" country - the intensity of the 10 international conferences conducted at participating schools has been ratcheted up as well.

During the one-hour session the Stafford students participated in November 8, more than 150 messages were sent through the system. During the previous session the week before, more than 200 were sent.

A Premium on Accuracy
When sculpting their messages, the participants had better be accurate or, as happened to the U.S. team last Monday, teams will be taken to task.

"The United States describes ... the rights to freedom of speech and religion as 'tangible freedoms' when, in fact, they are not. Tangible refers to that which can be touched; tangible freedoms and rights would be the right to food, clothing and shelter. The United States refutes the initial importance of rights such as food, clothing and shelter in this message and then bases a treaty upon them in message number 738.

"China asks the United States to clear up the discrepancies in their treaty and their arguments," the students wrote last week.

Unknown to the students involved in the game, China was represented by students from Windsor High School. The United States, which was under attack by China throughout the hour-long conference, was represented by college students at UMass-Dartmouth.

Boyer says the participants do not know who is representing a particular country. "One of the best groups last year was a ninth grade class, which was competing with students who were nearly all seniors," he says. "Everyone was pretty surprised at the end, when they discovered who represented which country."

Ninth graders may seem like old-timers within the next few years, however: Boyer is working on organizing a game among Connecticut middle schools that should be up and running by fall 2001. A college-level game is coordinated by the University of Maryland, and Boyer also is working with UConn's School of Business Administratio n to develop a simulation in international business negotiations.

Creative Solutions
The game exercise simulates a policy-making environment in which time is an issue and creative problem solving is required. Throughout the simulation, students must act in a diplomatic fashion befitting a delegate from their assigned country/team. Students are expected to explore proposals and ideas over ICONSnet.

There are 10 conferences - two conferences for each of five issue areas. At the first conference for an issue area, the students work to clarify their ideas. They also are required to draft a plan of action for solving the problem at hand before or during the second conference session.

Student participants, Boyer says, come away with a wealth of knowledge regarding specific countries, history, geography, computer skills, and political science. In evaluations conducted after last year's program by Scott Brown, professor and head of the educational psychology department, it also became clear that the students gain a remarkable perspective on how hard - and frustrating - developing international treaties can be.

"It's an excellent, excellent program," says Joel Nick, who earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at UConn and teaches the social studies class at Stafford High School that is playing the game this year. "It fascinates (the students). When the conferences are occurring, I really don't even have to be in the room, because they're so focused," he says. Nick does, however, drop in and spend time with the students, so they can bounce ideas off him.

One idea the students learned themselves last week, was not to rub the Chinese delegation the wrong way. When questioned about human rights in China, the Windsor students quickly rebutted the charge.

"China would like to put into question the U.S.' outrageous criticism of our human rights policy," they said.

" First, the U.S. is one of the world`s wealthiest countries, yet ironically has some of the most poverty-stricken groups in the world (displaced Native Americans). Furthermore, the U.S. has one of the largest gaps between rich and poor, and it is still growing.

" Although it is one of the founding members of the Organization of American States, the U.S. refuses to either approve the American Convention on Human Rights, or sign other human rights conventions the organization has approved," they wrote.

The students were saying, in other words, 'Do your homework.'" It's advice all the participants should take to heart.

Richard Veilleux