Monday, March 10, 2014

World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements by John Hunter

Hunter teaches gifted students, currently in Charlottesville. He has used the World Peace Game that he developed with 4th graders through adults. The simplified world of the game has four nations plus ethnic tribes, mercenaries, a religious minority, a UN, a World Bank, and a saboteur who sows discord in secret. A weather goddess introduces the effects of chance. The students have to solve fifty interlocking crises ranging from climate change to the competing rights of an indigenous burial ground in an oilfield. What makes the game unique is that the goal of peace means that everyone must win or else everyone loses the game. Despite this goal of peace, Hunter uses Sun Tzu's Art of War to help the students think through the consequences of their actions.

Hunter observes that each time the game passes through certain stages: first the students are overwhelmed by complexity, gradually they come to realize they cannot win as individuals or even as teams, and then there is an aha moment when the very interdependent complexity becomes the solution. He says no class has ever lost the game. As a teacher, Hunter advocates for “empty space” where a learner can think deeply and create meaning. He is concerned that the current focus on standardized testing leaves out the kind of difficult problem-solving that our society needs.

If you don't have time to read World Peace and other 4th Grade Achievements, or you want to know more before committing the time, you can view Hunter's TED presentation. Hearing a 4th grader recognize and explain the temptation of winning battles is simply astounding. Hunter's book, speech, and especially his students offer a ray of hope at a time when adult leaders seem to see no solutions. There is nothing quite like Hunter's book but James Howe's middle school novel The Misfits has also launched a widespread youth civic movement: “No Name Calling Week.”

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