USC
When Worldviews Collide
Day TIRPers - From left: USC volunteers Leila Valanejad, Ben May and Jacey Roche

Photo by Philip Channing

Issue: Spring 2005

Lessons in Worldliness

For nearly 30 years, Steven Lamy has tried to bring foreign relations into focus for kids whose travels don’t extend much beyond the L.A. County line. Thanks to a tireless crew of USC student volunteers, thousands of inner-city youths receive lessons in worldliness.

By Carl Marziali

The world has changed since the Cold War, but high school history classes still languish behind the Iron Curtain.

The problem is, history curricula usually run chronologically. With centuries if not millennia to cover, world history for 10th graders often stops at the Korean War or the fall of the Berlin Wall. A few lucky students get a crash course in current affairs on the last day of school – hardly the best time for intensive study.

But even those few lucky students do not receive systematic instruction on the principles of foreign policy, and the use of those principles to understand current affairs.

While civic and business leaders make speeches about an increasingly international and interrelated world, International Relations is a forgotten subject in American high schools.

At Roosevelt High School, in the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles, students carry cell phones, browse the Internet and surf their cable remotes. They have the best tools ever devised for worldwide learning – and no manual for making sense of the world.

“They don’t understand foreign policy. We don’t teach foreign policy. And that’s what they need to understand the U.S. and the world,” says Estela Leon ’95, a history teacher at Roosevelt who had majored in IR and political science at USC.

The problem is not limited to urban public schools. IR major Erin McLinn, currently a senior at USC, graduated from an upscale prep school in Minneapolis with similar limitations.

“I had your basic world-history class when I was a 10th grader, but it focused more on history, not contemporary relations,” she says. “I didn’t receive anything like this when I was in high school, and I kind of wish I had.”

“This” is TIRP, the Teaching Inter-national Relations Program. TIRP is the outreach centerpiece of USC’s Center for Active Learning in International Studies (CALIS) – and it may be the only program of its kind in the country. Every year, more than 200 IR students at USC volunteer to teach in teams of three at up to 20 high schools around Los Angeles County. Their mission: in four one-hour sessions, give young people a basic grounding in some key principles of foreign relations.

For most local high schoolers, TIRP is the only instruction they will receive in the field of international relations. Last year, the program reached close to 2,000 of them.

McLinn and two fellow USC IR majors, Joni Lim and Ilka Turcios, brought TIRP to Leon’s class last fall. Despite the early hour (first period at Roosevelt starts at 7:30 a.m.), two dozen 10th graders awaited the TIRP team. Outside, the sounds of band practice – thumping drums and blaring brass – beat against the classroom walls. Inside, the students earnestly applied themselves to problems like famine, disease and poverty.

As a warm-up, the class was asked to identify pictures from current events: a presidential debate, a car bombing, refugees fleeing Darfur. The responses showed many of the students had been watching CNN or reading the newspaper.

Next they moved on to the main activity, a role-playing game. It was their third TIRP session, so by now the Roosevelt kids knew what to expect. In no time they were divided into six groups, each representing a different Third World nation. Allotted 100 units of international aid, the students faced a deceptively simple task: Decide how to distribute the aid. How much should go toward education? How much toward health care? How much for power generation and for the military? Handouts from the CIA’s World Factbook helped them set their priorities.

Turcios, a USC sophomore from Passaic, New Jersey, who plans to work in the foreign service, assisted the groups representing Libya and Botswana.

“Even some students who do not normally feel comfortable or enthusiastic enough to participate much during class discussions were very active in this project,” she wrote in her Web-based journal. “They linked multiple problems together to come up with a more efficient solution, such as the need for better agriculture and the lack of fresh water along with unemployment and low exportation.

“When they discovered that Botswana uses more electricity than it makes … [they allocated] larger funds for technology in order to develop alternative sources of energy such as solar or wind power, which they noted would also lower the high unemployment rate.”

Out of this World
Steve Lamy is the kind of teacher alumni will talk about at their 50th reunion.

Photo by Michele A. H. Smith

TIRP is run by students for students. Student-teachers are volunteers; their journals are reviewed by CALIS student-staff who are themselves IR majors and TIRP veterans. Following Lamy’s models, these student-staffers make sure each team is giving valuable instruction.

They don’t hesitate to point out shortcomings. One reviewer wrote: “Your lesson plan said that you were going to use levels of analysis… What happened? It’s really important to include an analytical tool because then, even after you leave, the kids will ... have some sort of basis with which to analyze international events.”

This continuous review process sharpens and improves the more than 200 classroom activities in the TIRP database. Spanning topics from China’s one-child policy to transnational pollution, these case-specific simulations, exercises, maps and analytical tools are posted online (usc.glo.org/calis/db) and accessible not only to TIRP volunteers but to anyone interested in IR instruction.

Leon has included TIRP in her modern history curriculum at Roosevelt for two years. The impact on her students is clear, she says.

“They definitely have become more interested in international affairs. They’re watching the news, and for most of these students, news is not what they [normally] want to watch. They’ll come back and ask [good] questions. It’s coming out of TIRP.”

Leon says she makes the most out of TIRP visits: “Every activity that [the volunteers] bring, I save it and use it for another class.”

There’s another benefit, not directly related to IR but just as compelling for an inner-city school like Roosevelt, where many students never consider higher education: Whenever a student team teaches a session, it brings along the reality and the possibility of a USC experience.

“I think in a way we give them role models,” says McLinn.

TIRP volunteers are young, just a few years older than the high schoolers they’re teaching. And they’re attending college. That can’t help but make an impression.

Listen to Roosevelt student Javier Banuelos talk about his desire to improve conditions in places like Nigeria, the country his group studied earlier that morning:

“What’s interesting to me is to get more involved, to see what other countries need. I’ll probably go around to all these other countries … if I have a chance, try to help them build,” he says.

It’s not unusual for ambitious youths like Banuelos, who dreams of becoming a civil engineer, to turn to the armed services as a way to pay for college. If he should take that route, Banuelos may find himself posted to a foreign country with a gun in his hand and – save for a few hours of TIRP – no understanding of the forces that sent him abroad.

That void is what USC professor and School of International Relations director Steven Lamy has been trying to fill his entire career. As a graduate student at the University of Denver in the late ’70s, Lamy immersed himself in outreach, driving from Wyoming to New Mexico to lead weekend workshops with high school history teachers.

“He was on the road Saturday after Saturday,” says Michael Fry, now a professor emeritus of international relations at USC, but at that time dean of international studies at Denver. “Steve was running the [outreach] program for the graduate school. It was extremely successful. High school teachers were just flocking to the seminars,” he remembers.

Most doctoral students follow a standard formula: maximize research time and do everything possible to minimize your teaching obligations. But for Lamy, communicating his research was the exciting part. At Denver, he realized that his field’s traditional vehicle of communication – academic journals – misses a large and important non-academic audience.

The teachers Lamy met on those weekend excursions were starved for knowledge – especially the academic knowledge professors share only with other professors. He met teachers with master’s degrees and doctorates subsisting in an intellectual “desert.” The problem was not a lack of interest but a paucity of university-level IR continuing education. Lamy’s workshops filled the vacuum.

When Fry accepted a post at USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 1981, he found the IR school’s undergraduate and outreach programs lacking. A year later, he persuaded his Denver protégé to join him in Los Angeles and rejuvenate it. Lamy succeeded so quickly and so completely that when the two spoke at a conference in 1983, Fry was introduced as the professor who came to USC with Steve Lamy.

TIRP and CALIS are the direct descendants of those early outreach efforts. (For a full description, see the center’s home page at www.usc.edu/calis.)

Changes in sponsorship and grant funding have led to changes in the names and affiliations of programs, but the goals have stayed the same. CALIS, founded in 2000, includes TIRP in English and Spanish (about 200 high school students a year receive Spanish-language IR instruction) as well as teacher professional development, leadership conferences for high school students, visiting scholar programs for local schools, collaborative projects with other USC schools and many more activities. For example, last October six Los Angeles teachers active in CALIS attended the university’s 2004 Asia Conference in Korea on scholarships furnished by the USC Marshall School of Business.

Co-sponsored by the East Asian Studies Center (a sister unit also based in the College), CALIS is partially funded by a state initiative to improve foreign-affairs instruction in California schools. CALIS staff say they have found no other IR outreach program that teaches high school students directly. Other well-known programs, such as those at the University of Denver and at Brown University, focus mainly on teacher training or curriculum publications.

Premier for a Day
TIRP volunteer Ben May helps Franklin High students role-play the part of Third World decision-makers.

Photo by Philip Channing

One of the first outreach workers to join Lamy at USC was Teresa Hudock, formerly a teacher at a Catholic high school in Studio City, Calif. They met at an in-service day for archdiocesan teachers. A year later he hired her to help run his outreach program. She now directs CALIS.

“What I was drawn to then is exactly what I am still working on now,” says Hudock. She remembers being struck by the clarity of Lamy’s framework for studying IR. His model organizes the classical schools of political thought into three distinct “Worldviews” – those of the system maintainer, the system reformer and the system transformer. With this model, a student can understand, explain and predict the policy choices of a person or a nation.

Lamy did not invent the schools of thought described in his model. They have been around for centuries. He did, however, classify and organize them in a way that clarifies the sources of clashes between rival nations and political systems.

Differences in policy choices are linked to differences in worldview.

“The Worldviews framework,” Hudock explains, “reveals the nature of conflict. So, for example, when analyzing the critical issue of security, students can develop a case for either an arms race, arms control or disarmament depending on whether we focus on how the world is anarchic or the dynamics of collective security or the merits of creating peace through justice.

“With a systematic approach to track each perspective and its logical policy choices, students can then see the possibilities for negotiation or compromise between conflicting assumptions and values.”

But to talk only about the Worldviews model would be to understate Lamy’s contributions as a teacher. The evidence suggests he belongs in that select group of legendary USC faculty whom alumni will still be talking about at their 50th reunion.

How many professors take mug shots of all their students to keep their names and faces straight? How many notice a single student’s absence in a class of 250? How many grade every last student essay (Lamy instructs his TAs to write their comments in pencil; he then reviews all the assignments and exams himself)? How many refuse to employ multiple-choice exams no matter how large the enrollment? And how many receive near-perfect teaching evaluations, year after year?

On a recent Thursday, one of the days Lamy tries to set aside for research, he drafted five letters of recommendation for law schools. That brought the tally to 55 in October; the previous year he had written 70.

Estela Leon, the Roosevelt teacher, says: “If you ask me who’s the most inspirational teacher I’ve ever had, including high school, college, elementary, I’d say Professor Lamy.”

Not many professors can walk into the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as Lamy recently did for a seminar, and encounter a table full of his former students in the cafeteria, let alone greet them all by name.

“Dr. Lamy, Dr. Lamy,” they burst out at sight of their former teacher. Then as the sensitivity of their position dawned on them, they demanded: “Don’t tell anyone we work here!”

Lamy has won 18 teaching prizes, including the 2002 USC Teaching Has No Boundaries award, the 1998 Outstanding Service Award from the Association of Trojan Leagues of USC, and the Burlington National Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching. He is an honorary member of the USC Mortar Board Honor Society for his contributions to undergraduate teaching, and he has been nominated by USC President Steven B. Sample for Case Professor of the Year, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation.

“He’s not just a great charismatic teacher, but he’s also a very thoughtful and pedagogically innovative teacher. He really started case studies teaching here,” says Jane Cody, associate dean of academic programs in USC College.

Pioneered at Harvard University, the case-study method focuses on specific events or organizations as a springboard for exhaustive analysis of a given subject. Lamy was co-director in the late 1980s of a case study program funded by the Pew Foundation for training future diplomats. That earned him an invitation to train faculty in case teaching at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government from 1990-94. He was the only non-Harvard scholar to be invited under the Pew-funded program.

Just as he did as a graduate student, Lamy devotes copious time and enthusiasm to teaching – hardly the standard formula for academic success. When he first came to USC a well-meaning colleague counseled him to duck his teaching duties as much as possible and concentrate on research. Lamy ignored the advice.

“Anyone who commits that amount of time, effort and human resources to teaching and to outreach is, in one sense, defying the model,” says his former mentor Michael Fry, who also supervised the dissertation of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“He is a national treasure for doing it,” Fry adds.

While Lamy enjoys what he does immensely, he wishes he could spend more time on research. “Not too many people would devote a good part of their life to professional suicide … by focusing on outreach,” he says.

“But if you believe in the possibility of reform and change – I mean, this is the core of enlightenment, isn’t it? That we can make the world better? – then you’ve got to start when kids are 3 feet tall, not when they’re 6 feet tall. That’s one reasons why outreach to the schools is so important.”

The “professional suicide” remark should be taken with a grain of salt. When you are the tenured director of the largest IR school in the country and the third oldest in the world – the school celebrated its 80th birthday in 2004 – the health of your career is beyond question.

Lamy sits on the editorial board of the international relations series of Cambridge University Press and is associate editor of the journal International Studies Perspectives. He has published more than 30 book chapters and articles in his two favorite areas: alternatives to mainstream realist and capitalist theories, such as reform internationalism or Wilsonian neo-liberalism; and the emerging area of “niche diplomacy,” which studies the roles of middle powers on the international stage. He is currently working on a case study of Pierre Trudeau, the late flamboyant statesman who was at once Canada’s most admired and most reviled prime minister.

What Lamy has sacrificed by focusing on teaching and outreach is the chance at fame and fortune – through political appointment and lobbying.

“He and I used to laugh and say: ‘Well, we know we’ve taken holy orders,’” says Fry, referring to their shared commitment to teaching.

A considerable consolation has been the surge in popularity of IR in recent years. In the fall of 2003 Lamy’s introductory class, IR 210, had a record 300 students enrolled , with a huge waiting list. Lamy offered it again in the spring; 260 students signed up. Thinking he had cleared the backlog, he expected to see no more than 150 students this fall. He got 285, with a four-page waiting list.

“You actually feel smarter walking out of the classroom,” writes one student in an assessment that’s typical of Lamy’s course evaluations. “But if you want to actually sit in a seat and take notes, it is wise to get there early. And don’t even think about skipping his lectures, because he knows when you’re not there.”

The factors behind the swelling enrollment are hard to pinpoint, though foreign policy and world turmoil probably loom larger in students’ minds in the post-9/11 era. Whatever their concerns coming into the class, Lamy tries to dislodge students from their preconceptions.

“I try to get kids away from thinking, ‘Oh, Bush is just too conservative,’” Lamy says. “No, Bush is a system maintainer. But so is Clinton. Somebody says, ‘Kerry’s too liberal.’ No, Kerry’s not too liberal; he’s a system maintainer. He’s just a different kind of system maintainer.”

Lamy says his goal as an instructor is to get kids to think outside what he calls “the groove.” This well-traveled channel “has been dug by socialization in schools and relationships with parents and friends,” he explains. “I don’t care if they stay in that groove, but I want them to come up for air once in a while and to look at some other perspectives.”

Lately, Lamy is excited to see a growing number of IR majors at USC who first encountered TIRP in high school. These students ask for more readings, he notes. They respond to the material, they make the subject their own.

And they volunteer for TIRP.

Carl Marziali is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. His last article, “And Referenda for All,” about direct-democracy expert Elizabeth Garrett, appeared in the Autumn 2004 issue.