I’m happy to share the first Best Delegate guest post written by a Model UN advisor. June Gorman is an educational theorist and the co-founder of the Transformative Education Forum. She has been involved in Model UN as an education chair for UNA-USA and as a member of the IMUNA board.
I was standing on the steps of Sproul Hall on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, my alma mater of some 30 years prior. It brought back warm memories of past causes strong enough to have me gather on these very steps with other students of that time, to discuss, learn about, argue and protest these issues of world importance – such as South African Apartheid and the divestment movement to stop US financial support to that unsustainable, racist model.
But this time I was there for a different way to learn/teach about those world issues that everyone was now beginning to see were critical for all truly thoughtful citizens of any nation in the 21st Century to know and discuss. This time I was waiting for students I helped bring to the 65th Berkeley Model United Nations Conference from two Monterey/Salinas schools completely new to Model UN – Pacific Grove and Alisal High Schools.
Waiting on these nostalgia-inducing stone steps below the Classical architecture Administration building with it’s white, imposing, Greco-Roman pillars, I listened to the students around me, eavesdropping on their impressions of this MUN conference so far. Near me were other MUN clubs and school advisors gathering for the lunch break. Behind my back, I felt a rush of excited motion as one of these other school’s students ran up to his apparent advisor gushing, “There were 7 other resolutions being written and supported but I managed to get them all voted down until mine was the only Resolution left!” To my surprise, he got the enthusiastic approval from his advisor he was clearly expecting – he had won! Looking up, I caught the eye of one of my Alisal students, Fernando, brand new to Model UN and at his first conference ever. Together we shared a knowing smile.
Flash back to pouring rain, me driving way too fast on the Freeway from where I live to Salinas, CA – breadbasket still, farm land still, home of John Steinbeck and strong necessary populations of Hispanic migrant workers. In unusual heavy rain I was clearly hydroplaning and dangerously so, but I had to get there, to Alisal High, to a fledgling barely started Model UN club and the 8 students who had signed up with their new advisor to attend Berkeley’s MUN, raised the money for the trip 100 miles North, but were now according to their advisor, fearfully backing out. They were not sure that they could do this daunting thing, with their inexperience, their admitted lack of preparation, their cultural distance from the elite academy that was Berkeley, looming frighteningly in their minds
I got there alive but with only 30 minutes left to convince the 8 scared, literally pale and silent students in front of me who knew now that this was far more than they had expected or had even known to get ready for and I sensed that biggest fear of all humans and certainly all students was raising its powerful head: the fear of humiliation and shame, of not “knowing” what you were supposed to and thus being exposed to all as “stupid.” Nonetheless I, too long sensitive to what that emotional fear can do to actual learning, felt I knew exactly what to tell them.
After introducing myself and learning all their names, I began:
“Your advisor tells me you are feeling unprepared for Berkeley’s Model UN, as your first ever MUN conference. Your advisor tells me that you all are pretty certain you want to back out, give up your deposit and not attend at all. But I am here to tell you why that would be a mistake.
“The beauty of Model United Nations is that it is unlike most other things we teach and grade in school, unlike the ‘competition’ to win and show yourself ‘on top’ and better than others. The beauty of Model United Nations is that it is a simulation model that allows you, encourages you, to learn as you go. Just like life itself.
“In Model UN, unlike most of all other American classroom learning, you are not constantly tested, graded, exposed for what you do not yet feel confident about knowing. You can remain completely silent the entire time in your committee and none will be the wiser.
“But those true ‘Best Delegates’, those true complex, well taught, listeners and encouragers of broadening the discussion and thus the true best ‘Problem Solvers’ — your best experience in MUN will be had in looking for those ‘Best Delegates.’
“Ignore the ‘shark in the water’ competitors for awards – they are also incredibly easy to spot by their arrogance and the way they shut down wider discussion. In many MUN Conferences to this day, they will often be the ones rewarded as ‘Best Delegate’ but I, and now you, know better.
“Look for those true ‘Best Delegates’ who indeed have done their work and can model for you how to present it in the most inclusive not arrogant voice, who can pull from everyone else their contribution to make the best resolution/solution and who can make all of the committee feel like ‘winners’ because they encouraged all gifts, diverse viewpoints and abilities to communicate together in order to truly problem-solve.
“They will teach you far more than you could ever learn alone or they could ever learn alone and they will make it a pleasure to do so. And this is perhaps the most critical skill set of all the skill sets for sustainable problem solving in a complex, interdependent, diverse world.”
Now, having caught the amused dark brown eyes of Fernando as we listened to the young man behind me, I felt validated. Fernando had been one of these very Alisal students who had most feared coming but had, trusting me, done so and already told me that despite the “competitive ones” he had done as I had suggested and aligned himself with true “Best Delegates” that had unknowingly taught him far better and made him enjoy the entire experience of that complex learning, far more.
It was the young man behind me that I actually felt more sorry for; he had done everything he had been taught to win “Best Delegate” but I was certain that Fernando had learned more that was most important about the entire exercise of Model UN. And life.
And it was my hope that one of these days, we would recognize and reward as truly ‘Best Delegates’ those who were most instrumental in sharing that knowledge and learning with Fernando and the others, to make the entire committee and all its students trying to learn to complex problem-solve for the best overall solutions, altogether better. And thus far more prepared to do the very same thing in their own lives and their wider world.
It’s why as an lifetime educator looking for that better problem-solving model, I truly love Model UN and the real “Best Delegates”, often unrewarded, from whom I too get to learn and enjoy the most.
How do you define “Best Delegate?” Let us know in the comments below!