As kids head back to the classroom this year, more of them will be learning an important set of skills that could lead to world peace. At least that was the hope of a Charlottesville teacher who designed The World Peace Game.
John Hunter is tall, dignified man at the center of a small circus, with kids between the ages of 9 and 12 dashing around a multi-level game board filled with toy soldiers and other props for the game Hunter developed 37 years ago.
It’s played over several days or weeks - for a total of 20 hours by children assigned various roles.
“Okay, so I see legal council, and I think this was the United Nations, World Bank is there at another table, and we have a group of arms dealers.”
We’re getting the AWAC. For how much? A million. That’s not the right price. A million is way too cheap!
But often, Hunter says, these arms dealers decide not to sell weapons, because they want to keep their customers alive. The children are presented with various challenges as they draw random cards from a deck.
“One card says, ‘A squadron of jets stray into airspace of the country to your west -- attack fishing boats mistakenly. What will you do? Oil spill - tanker breaks up and leaks three million barrels of crude, and the clean up is very costly. We have invent new medicine. Stop the Y17 disease. Costs $2 million per dose. Who will fund it?”
The idea, Hunter says, is to teach problem solving in a complex world. He guides the students through one crisis after the next. Today, for example, one country’s satellite is stranded in space, and that’s got another country up in arms.
“It’s casting a blasphemous shadow on his shrine. It just says it’s stuck in orbit. It doesn’t say how many days? Three. I knew it was in there. I wrote it. Okay ! Are you going to attempt to fix it, Sir? Yes. Miss Habermaker, is that a coin toss, or can they just say they’ll fix it, and it’s done? Coin toss, she says. There’s a chance it may not work. Let’s have a coin toss over there please.”
A bell signals the start of negotiations - a key part of the World Peace Game. Tanya Bingham, who’s now starting a charter school in Richmond, was one of the first to play the game as a high school student, and she says it taught important lessons.
“One big thing for me was the power of choice. As a teenager, I was at the stage where I was just sort of reacting to life, and this game we had to slow down and instead of reacting we work on resolving.”
Now a junior at Yale, Grace Payne also recalls the lessons she learned in Mr. Hunter’s class. She’s watching, today, as he shows 26 teachers from around the world how it’s played.
“This game, for me, was part of what I think of as the John Hunter package. There was just this attitude that he adopted towards his students of really trusting them to take on these huge concepts but be able to get past that and push themselves in ways we didn’t know we could.”
Hunter retired from the classroom in 2014 to work, full time, for his World Peace Game Foundation. He was invited to Austria and to Norway where teachers Doris Sommer and Eivind Sorheim met him and got excited about a game that engages kids in a big way.
“They are constantly acting something out. They’re constantly thinking. They are constantly doing. They are constantly very active in their brains. Yeah, because we got this body, right? And it’s supposed to be moving.”
And after a few days of training here in Virginia, they’ll take the game home to share with their students - hoping, like John Hunter - to instruct a new generation in how to prevent wars and promote peace.