It would not be a proper French/Francophone club without discussing Napoleon I at some point. Katie and I decided to follow up our rather successful reenactment of the French Revolution with a very short history of Napoleon (pun intended), with the 3rd through 5th graders participating in a model Congress of Vienna. The actual Congress of Vienna, dominated by Klemen von Metternich of Austria, negotiated a balance of power in Europe between the powerful nations, legitimizing the monarchies Napoleon had overthrown and restoring peace to the continent. Instead of completely sticking to historical accuracy, we decided to allow the students to make alternative decisions affecting relations with those around them in real time. Since Katie and I are both international politics majors, it was also a chance to invoke our own research and knowledge, often obfuscated with dry discourse, with children.
You know, instead of politicians disguised as adults who act like children.
First, the nine students, including Katie, were paired off into five nations: Austria, Prussia, the United Kingdom (UK), Russia and Bourbon France. Each student was given a sheet of paper where they could circle or write their answers depending on the question. The first round asked them to decide whether their nation would be a monarchy or a democracy. In a shocking twist, the UK, France and Russia chose to switch to democracy. The rules of our game stipulated that monarchies and democracies would be natural enemies. Therefore, three democracies aligned against Prussia and Austria who sided with the rod and scepter of the monarchy.
These results made the second round more complex. The students were faced with a choice of what to do with France, now under Bourbon control. They could either keep it intact or divide it up among themselves. Only Prussia voted to carve it up and, since the majority rules, France remained whole. However, Prussia’s desire sent shock waves through the Russian, UK and French parties.
The third round began asking them a two part question: Should you wage war against any nation and, if so, why? Each nation would answer one at a time, but I told the students that they could change their mind depending on what those around them had decided. This way, the diplomacy would resemble something more fluid and organic.
Russia began by declaring war on Canada. Katie and I were both taken completely by surprise (humorously) at this. I said it was a good choice because they would never see that coming. One of the Prussian students yelled, “The UK owns Canada. Why are you attacking your friends?!” That angered the UK group, but not enough to change their minds from attacking Austria. The UK group kept calling the Austrians “those crazy people” over and over. Soon, France and Russia began joining in on the labeling and Austria found itself backed into a corner with Prussia, split between two students, on what to do. The Prussians looked scared, as they were obviously outnumbered, and now their only ally was likened to being insane.
The crazy Austrians were outmatched and, ostensibly, doomed. But diplomacy is always full of surprising twists and turns. Katie had only given small amounts of advice to her teammate throughout the game. Originally, we had planned for Katie to act like a Metternich figure going around bribing the other countries with cookies to make secret treaties. However, it only would seem to complicate things. Instead, she left the students engage in diplomacy with little direction and it worked out better in the end. The kids all took their roles seriously and played to their self-interests while attempting to keep alliances intact.
During the tumultuous third round negotiations concerning war, one student in the Prussian group made a passionate speech proclaiming that peace was the only way not to delve back into the Napoleonic Wars that had plagued the continent. She was channeling Metternich directly, though never having heard or read a single thing about him. It was an amazing and surreal moment to watch unfurl as the other students listened intently and absorbed the peaceful soliloquy on display.
Katie (or Klementine von Metternich as I dubbed her) let her partner do the speaking for Austria. Immediately, the student declared in a great German accent that she was, indeed, not crazy and willing to negotiate peace among all nations to preserve harmony. Katie’s teammate in the Austrian group also has a well-known disdain for Justin Bieber too. After her Churchill-esque speech in a great German accent, we had a round of applause. Then we gave the students two rounds of Pillsbury sugar cookies, which was a good thing because they all went Austrian crazy from the sugar after that.
As it stood, Europe was on the brink of sliding back into conflict. That is, if it was not for a peaceful little Prussian and her profound effect on the whole class.
Then Russia decided to invade Brazil.