Can Fourth Graders Create World Peace?

Fourth Graders seem to be able to do so much more than we give them credit for or even imagine they can.
  • Transcript


John Hunter: The World Peace Game is a 4 foot by 4 foot by 4 foot Plexiglas towering structure. It’s basically a geopolitical simulation that my group of students from nine years old -- I usually teach elementary school, but up to high school and even young adult -- they play around this gigantic structure to solve 50 interlocking world problems that I have given them, a 13-page crisis document. Their trying to solve it while reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and trying to do this problem solving without combat if possible.

They also have to raise the asset value of every country involved in the game, which is almost impossible to do. I’ve designed it so that the game actually fails massively at first. It has to because that’s like life. Life is full of success and failure, and so we’ve got to put everything in so students can learn to deal with and manage everything that happens in a safe and appropriate way.  

That’s essentially the game on four levels -- undersea, ground and sea, aircraft and outer space, emulating our planet. And they’re to solve all the problems of the world in about eight weeks.

A lot of people do wonder, can fourth-graders, can elementary school children handle complex problem solving? And we might think not because they just simply haven't been here long enough. But my approach is the opposite, actually. I believe, having experienced their wisdom, their insight and their kindness, that they seem to be able to do so much more than we give them credit for or even imagine they can. 

So in The World Peace Game I don’t pre-chew or breakdown things into bite-size pieces, you know, so their little minds can handle it. I believe they have great minds and huge hearts. And so I actually overcomplexify. I add so many complex issues together at once, it’s a real overload situation. And the idea is designed to overload that left-brain thinking, that intellectual analytical thinking, so that it collapses. And then they have to use that intuitive side. They have to reach deeper into themselves through critical thinking and creative thinking and think thoughts and techniques and methods that have never been thought of before because the conventions don’t work. So I’ve designed the system to destroy the conventional approaches. And then they’re thrown back on themselves. They’ve got to dig deeper to find the meaning and answer within themselves. And they do that collaboratively. And they discover collaboration in the process. 

What these children have shown me is different from what I originally intended. When I first invented this game in 1978 with inner-city high school youth, it was a game just about one subject area, about Africa, and I taught to the children’s passion, which was board games at the time, and I put in some problem solving. It started like that. And I thought I was teaching content, information, simple problem solving. That’s all I was interested in, that’s what I thought you were supposed to do.

But as a teacher, my practice has been informed by the evolutionary thinking, the astounding thinking of my student’s over time. They have shown me that the purpose -- the real purpose of things like this is becoming a beautiful wonderful human being. They say, “The game is about compassion, Mr. Hunter. The game is really about taking care of everybody, not leaving anybody out.” I didn’t know that when I made the game, but that’s what they come too. That’s what they arrive at. That’s what they devise. Every time we play the game they leave no one out. They make certain that the game is won by everybody increasing in their interest, in their resources and their value.

And so this idea of increasing compassion and decreasing suffering in the world is what 9-year-olds are showing me is the way to go, and they do it every time we play the game, decades of it. And we've had some odd personalities, some interesting people. We've had some bullies sometimes. But the game, the collective wisdom of the group, tends to bring them to a different place. So that gives me a great optimism, really a great hope in these things they’ve taught me are actually deeper lessons, and I hope they teach others as they get older. 

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd