If you were making international decisions about America’s position in the world, would you increase foreign aid, limit foreign aid or eliminate foreign aid and spend the money at home?
Tough questions like those were debated Wednesday when three international experts came to Homewood-Flossmoor High School to discuss the topic with students in international relations classes.
Students found there are no easy answers for how the United States distributes its $35 billion in international aid between 142 countries. That’s less that 1 percent of the country’s $4 trillion federal budget, but it can make a big difference in trying to build alliances, help the underprivileged and strengthen human rights and new democratic governments.
Teacher Carl Coates said, “I believe our students found the world’s a more complicated place” than they thought at the start of the discussion.
In debating the finer points, students worked in three groups taking specific positions only to have them questioned by British Consul General Stephen Bridges; Michele Wucker, author and former vice president of studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; and Flossmoor resident Ian Solomon, vice president for Global Engagement at the University of Chicago.
Students argued that sharing resources with the rest of the world will be a catalyst for change and increase the U.S. standing in the world. Good idea, Solomon said, but then gave the students a reality check asking how to pay for their share-the-wealth position.
“Your intentions are admirable,” Wucker added, “but why is aid a better solution than opening markets in these countries” so the people can provide for themselves?
Another group said more economic aid should be given to nation states that show a commitment to the United States and have free economies and stable governments.
Solomon asked for four or five countries that could be stripped of their aid. When students named several African nations, Solomon said: “So you’re not concerned about ISIS in northern Nigeria?”
At each step in the 75-minute discussion, students found there are no simple down-the-line decisions, but the three guests told the students there are ways to present points and win others over.
Wucker suggested students consider their three major points and always make certain they are made in any response.
Bridges said there are ways to answer: do not directly speak to the question but present your point of view, or give the “yes, but…” answer. Solomon told students not to let others force them off their positions but stick with it if they truly believe it is the right position.
“It was really cool to see that these experienced people have a much different way of thinking than we do. It was an eye opener for us as a class,” said Cheyenne Danner.
“It was phenomenal. I loved it,” said Anthony Davis who plans to major in international relations in college.