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World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements

18 April 2013 No Comment

John Hunter

Connection Point Director Yasmina Mrabet interviewed award-winning teacher John Hunter about the lessons and inspiration behind his groundbreaking World Peace Game, discussed in his new book World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements. His answers are below.

What inspired you to create the World Peace Game? Did you see a gap in the learning process when it came to teaching about global conflict?

It was my first teaching job – the very first thing I did as a teacher 35 years ago. It came about because my supervisor didn’t tell me what to do or not to do. When I asked for guidelines, she asked, “What do you want to do?” This was upsetting, in a good way! My hard limit, what I was required to teach, was a unit about Africa in social studies. I had to go into myself to find out what I wanted to do to teach it. I depended a lot on my mentors – Ms. Ethel J. Banks, an older undergraduate-supervising teacher in Richmond Virginia always told me to teach to the LOLR – the Line Of Least Resistance, which meant finding out who the students really are, what their passions are, what they really care about, what they love, and then build curriculum around that and to that. That the students’ passion will drive their curriculum because they’ll own it and they’ll feel it’s theirs. When I created the World Peace Game we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, or social media – people played board games for fun! So I decided to create a board game, and included problem solving, and other skill building [elements], and that became the World Peace Game. I didn’t know enough to know whether there was a lack or a need for this kind of teaching, but knew I wanted to do something different that the kids would enjoy and could have ownership of. I wanted to relay the concept that things are often more than they appear to be, that they are often more than we perceive them to be.

Can you share more specifics about the game? How does it work?

In the game there are 13 different crisis scenarios iterations – each is an evolution of the one before, and the 13th would be the ultimate one so far. The game has 50 different interlocking global crises – taken from current conditions in the world and modified to be appropriate for children. The secret is a formula that I came up, to ensure that the crisis are interlocking – so that if one thing is affected, everything will be. It mimics the concept of interdependency in the real world, but rather than teaching the students that concept through a lecture, I wanted them to understand it by going through it themselves and living through it. Students have two goals – one is to solve the interlocking crises – there’s no way to know how to do it, they have to work and take practical problem-solving approaches together. The other goal is for every country in the game, and there are usually four countries, every country’s asset value must be increased by the end, so everyone has to win. Each country has a Prime Minister, Secretary of State, Minister of Defense ad a Chief Financial Officer – the game also has the United Nations, a World Bank, Arms Dealers,  aStock Market, and Weather Controllers. We also have someone whose mission is to destroy the game, which forces everyone to have to think more deeply about every conversation, every nuance that’s going on – it deepens attention and awareness.

Playing the World Peace Game!

How many can play at once? It also sounds like they need to work together in order for everyone to win!

The game averages anywhere from 12-20 hours, depending on players, and 25-30 can play at once. They do need to be working together, but they are not told that! The game tricks them into believing that they can’t work together, that they are at odds with each other on every level; politically, militarily, and economically, and together they discover collaboration without having to be told to work together.

I understand that your class has played the game at the Pentagon – how did that go?!

In a recent visit to the Pentagon the policy side and the military side of the Pentagon came together, and they showed tremendous respect to my students in their roles even in their fictional game. During that visit there really were peer-to-peer relationships developed. We had 2, 3, and 4-star generals talking about how insurgents and climate change impacted conditions in the field, and our 9-year olds World Peace Game vets could talk intelligently about it. The military people understood and respected that.

What game teaches compassion and collaboration? The World Peace Game!

That must have been powerful to witness. The World Peace Game really sounds like it has the potential to empower and build skills that last well after the game comes to an end. Have you found that?

Yes, they are developing skills that are long-lasting, because over the decades, over 10 years, 25 years, 30 years students come back to visit me and let me know what the effect of the game has been on their lives, and what skills they have used from the games in their work and to live as better people. That is the most gratifying experience – when students come back and let you know that what you did made a difference. The students definitely develop a sense of empowerment, especially girls – you’d think they’d sometimes be overshadowed by boys – what I found is that the girls find a unique power, and it seems to carry on into their lives. On the website there is a blog where you can find what former students have written about how the game has affected them and helped them. It is so helpful to hear and see as a teacher.

In what settings is this game appropriate – is it exclusively for an education context? Or could I play it with my friends? What about other possibilities, such as to be used as a part of a dialogue process on a contentious conflict, global or otherwise?

We are exploring that – it’s a question right now, because it’s intended to be an educational learning tool, yet it seems to have potential to go beyond that. The original intention is that it should be played with people who know each other because this Game depends on relationships. It develops compassion and helps decrease suffering in the world. It is not a game for entertainment or use as a  diversion –it’s a tool for learning and transformation.  I’ve had business, game developers, and even a defense contractor demonstrate interest! But the game is meant to foster and facilitate the development of compassion. Again, in this game everyone has to win. The students who play it do discover collaboration and compassion so it may be useful in other settings.

But there is a difference when kids play it and when adults play. Kids solve problems in fresher new ways and they have fewer barriers to conceiving of unique, unconventional solutions. For adults the game can be harder and take longer – As a facilitator, for me, it’s a much more intense experience than playing with children – it requires a special skill beyond what is needed playing with children. Sometimes adults can get into war, and get stuck in vicious cycles until they figure out how to get out of it.

The World Peace Game is a groundbreaking strategy for Peace Education.

How much hope or optimism do you have for the potential for a shift in thinking oriented toward peace through the use of this game in education?

Based on my experiences with the game, I am extremely optimistic – I have been looking at its impact over decades, and I have so much hope and encouragement. The students always, always, always come to compassion – they discover it – they discover that we depend on and need each other, that we are intertwined together, and seeing and accepting that this is really the reality no matter what initial perspective we may have. The students play the game, they discover that reality, and they leave no one out. I’m encouraged every time I see it happen, and it happens every time we play. The students are developing critical skills and the thinking tools which they discover, to use for future encounters or situations. And they are developing relationships and compassion – instead of taking their personal perspectives and superimposing them on reality, through the game, the students are just dealing with things the way they are. So yes, I am very hopeful and optimistic!

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Check out our previous interview with John Hunter, in the PeaceTimes June 2012 edition, “Men We Love” – John Hunter: Teaching Peace, Reaching through Time

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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

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