Research Projects

In our last week of school, the kids are furiously working (furious at me, or just intensely and laboriously… I think both!) on final projects so that next week everything will be in place to focus on packing and saying goodbye.

The first task is that Kevin invited our group to participate in the 8th grade Model UN conference at Gao Xin Middle School. We will send six delegates representing Iran, Pakistan and China to a summit dealing with Family Poverty and Social Exclusion. (Our biggest question is if there’s meant to be a comma separating Family and Poverty!) Jason, Max’s host brother from the fall, has stopped by twice to coach us in the proper procedures and how to craft our position papers, address the General Assembly, etc. The conference will take place on Sunday from 8-5. We’ve been asked to dress sharply 🙂

Secondly, for the Social Studies class, the students, again working with a partner, are drafting and presenting op-eds about certain controversies affecting China and proposing a course of action for them. The four topics chosen they chose are pollution, censorship, minority inclusion in Xinjiang province, and the current territorial dispute in the South China Sea between China, Philippines, Vietnam and just about everyone else. Those will be presented today, and tomorrow the students will do Social Studies final exam. This will be a collective ‘Group Think’ about one vast question and graded only for participation. The goal is that they make provocative–even outlandish–assertions so long as they back them up with historical reasoning.

The largest and perhaps most daunting assignment that’s been occupying our time as of late is the research project. This paper is in many ways a capstone of the China Exchange program whereby students research a topic of individual interest to them. Furthermore, it satisfies Brookline High School’s Sophomore paper requirement (at least 5 pages), Junior paper requirement (at least 7 pages) and the Senior paper requirement (at least 10 pages). Each student purchased a book before traveling and then as their thoughts developed, they searched for other sources which support their own ideas. Fortunately this project has been relatively easy in that so many sources are available digitally in this day and age.

I’ve been very impressed with the maturity of the topics and the theses they’ve developed. Each student is at a different stage in the process and some (most?) will continue to be refined and revised once we’re home in June.

Ada‘s paper deals with the conflict that arises from China and America’s clashing political systems and reconciling their ensuing competition for global hegemony. She focuses primarily on how lending (she calls it “checkbook diplomacy”) to African nations is the new realpolitik of this 21st century Cold War.

Rachel is also interested in the role China is playing on African continent. She is focused mainly on resource extraction and the potential economic exploitation and environmental hazards this is causing.

Ayden is dealing with the notion of China’s “leftover women”–educated single women over age 27–and how biased property and divorce laws force these women to make a pact with the devil: get married (to a potentially abusive husband and forfeit financial independence) to win society’s acceptance, or remain single and eternally ostracized.

Wildlife management is Lilly‘s realm of interest. She is talking about how advocacy to save a species of antelope on the Tibetan plateau in the 1980s was the impetus in creating a nation-wide awareness about and advocacy for conservation and protection of China’s natural heritage.

Becca is also writing about the environment. We’ve conferenced about formulating a thesis that claims that Deng Xiaoping’s economic policy of ‘growth at any price’ (1970s-90s) was reckless and short-sighted, and thus led to the environmental degradation of air and water that afflict China today.

Eema, rather unsurprisingly (she’s often praised as the group’s most talented artist), has chosen to explore the political underpinnings of Ai Wei Wei’s art. She’ll share some of his own quotes as well as some critics’, colleagues’ and compatriots’ as she tries to add words to his artistic creations.

Karun talking about golf in China which may seem frivolous at first but in fact is quite probing. If you know about Communism and its constant purges of the 1950s and 60s, you’ll know that golf was and still is readily denounced as ‘capitalist’, ‘bourgeois’ and ‘excessive’, yet it plays an essential in closing all those business deals that propel China’s economy today. If I understand correctly, golf is officially banned in China but there’s a golf course three blocks from our school; they’re just called ‘Recreation Centers’ instead (#hidinginplainsight). In any case, Karun will explore the complexity of this paradox over five pages.

Max is busy pursuing an original interest through an original format: He’s been busy interviewing, filming (and now translating with his host brother) students and parents about the role of schools in China. His driving question, last I knew, is if Chinese schools are doing an adequate job in developing the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills necessary for business solutions in the 21st century.

I haven’t seen any final products (though two girls are very close), but I’m sure ultimately each student will produce fantastic scholarship and learn a whole lot in this arduous process.


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