As a young teenager trying to break out of Chesterfield, Virginia in the early 70s, John Hunter dreamed of more. Inspired by Gandhi and the philosophies of peace and diplomacy, John spent part of his early adulthood in India. He returned to America and began teaching in the Richmond City Schools. In 1978 he developed The World Peace Game. The Game engages children of all ages with highly charged diplomatic issues that emphasize critical thinking, problem-solving and, most importantly, compassion.

 

In nearly three decades the game has informed thousands of students around the world, led to consultations with international leaders on global issues, and inspired Chris Farina’s award-winning international documentary , World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements

 

The sophisticated diplomacy of the game led to Hunter and his student being invited to meet with military leaders at the Pentagon where they were asked to advise and discuss some of the current obstacles facing the Department of Defense. At the conclusion of the meeting, Hunter’s 4th Grade class was “coined”–something done in the military when a special commemorative coin is given in a handshake– by multiple generals and the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta.

BREAKING OUT

I was born in Richmond, Virginia and grew up in Chesterfield, Virginia. I had as a teen studied metaphysics in our small county library, trying to soak up as much as I could get my hands on. I wanted something more, beyond Chesterfield. All of this thought led me to India. You could say that my mentors were older Indian people. I left the US at 19, 1975, to break out of the box of the 60s and 70s and the social situation pre-determined for a young African American like me. Back then, I saw something differently for myself than what was presented to me. Looking back now, this very much influenced the game and my personal philosophies and decisions made in creating the game. I was inspired by Gandhi and the philosophy of acting with diplomacy under the constraints of difficult, violent situations. I remember reading an issue of Co-Evolution Quarterly, and there was this picture or illustration of a military brigade coming ashore, but they carried no weapons. That was powerful to me. My interest in Gandhi and contemplation and philosophy, as fledging as they were back then, had a major impact in starting the World Peace Game.

THE LITTLE GUYS

My teaching career started with early education, the little guys. All the while though I was dropping in and out, going back to India. I started teaching at the Richmond public schools. My first job was at Richmond Community High School which was a private and public hybrid. This was in 1978, and I was a social studies teacher charged with teaching inner-city kids for the most part. They were kids from the projects, from the cities, in very different situations from each other. This is where the World Peace Game officially started. It was amazing to me then, and still now, how good kids can be at approaching and solving complex problems. Problems that adults are struggling with, but problems kids could solve and solve often. Additionally, the longer they played and experienced the game, the rate and speed they could innovate and problem-solved increased and intensified.

“It was amazing to me then, and still now, how good kids can be at approaching and solving complex problems.”

THE GAME

The World Peace Game is an all ages game, a geopolitical simulation. I’ve taught it to college students, down to elementary, but the sweet spot is elementary to middle school kids. The game presents kids with fifty interlocking problems or challenges. Some of these challenges might be how to handle interdependent enterprises, or moving military supplies. The key though is that the problems are revealed to the children through the game, allowing them the imaginative freedom to approach and solve real world problems. The first introduction of the game started as a four foot by four foot flat board. I don’t consider myself a gamer. It truly is a means to an end to get kids engaged. I just try to create networks for the students in front of me. The game too is designed to undermine my own prerogative. The kids are creating their own way, and innovating their own way. Now it’s incredible, because the reach of the game has grown. I spend a good portion of my time traveling.

FAILURE

One of the biggest teaching points of the game are the children’s ability to fail, and fail a lot. Massively. We don’t teach kids enough how to fail, just to succeed. We as educators and parents need to prepare them for life. Instead, we demonize and stigmatize people having the experience of failure and only celebrate winners. One of the fundamental tenets of the game is you have to be okay with yourself and your center to fail. Failure is just an appearance. A temporary thing. Failure is a phase, or a stage, but it is not a concrete thing we need to fear. As long as I’m still breathing and still have a shot at working on the game, I will.

PENTAGON

A very surreal experience for the World Peace Game was when we were invited to the Pentagon. Chris Farina, me and my 9 year olds. We thought it would just be a meet and greet. Like pizza with some of the staff. We walk in and I was surprised how serious it all was. Someone came down to greet us and then they led us into this conference room, all my kids in tow. At the table were two, three, and four star generals. Those generals spent three hours with my kids. Discussing thing like insurgency in the field, breaks in supply chains. How would these kids handle challenges like that? What struck me was how serious they were. The generals asked my nine year olds, what do you think our toughest problem is. And the kids said climate change. The generals said, “Climate change are our toughest problem too.” There was a quiet moment where one of the generals told us, “These generals ask you here because we are suffering. We admit it. We’ve lost colleagues, friends families. We need to change our way of thinking about space and obstacles, and not allow it to be driven by our own contextuals and circumstance.” They were fascinated by the concept of empty space presented in the game, so we had a discussion. I think about this visit, how surreal it was to watch the most powerful military leaders in the world strategize with my 9 year old’s kids. And then they did something incredibly. Every single general coined every single one of our kids with a handshake. I remember Chris and I were walking the kids out and we were stopped. A five star general named Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to personally coin my kids as well.” He was on his way to a meeting with the president, and ended up giving us thirty minutes of his time. I remember thinking, you’re an elementary school teacher and now you’re at the Pentagon. Surreal.

ARROGANCE & GROWTH

Death is an abstract part of the game represented through war. I wanted tragedy to be represented abstractly, not realistically, in order to avoid traumatizing the kids. There is a part of the game where if you initiate war and win, you must read aloud a letter making an offer of condolence. I was giving a talk in Nashville to this very wealthy private school about The World Peace Game. I was at the airport, waiting for my ride to come and this Lexus pulls up with the black, shiny wheels. This young guy steps out, maybe 32 years old, with expensive shoes and this giant ring. I instantly make a judgement. “I know who this guy is.” I was being driven by my own arrogance at that moment. I get in the car and we’re driving. Chatting a little. I realize he knows a lot more about The World Peace Game then I would’ve thought. He said he watched the film. After a while he gets quiet and he says, “I like that you have that letter, in the game.” It’s quiet again and he says, “I was a Marine Corps Commander in Iraq, at the Battle of Fallujah. I had two tours for a year and a half.” I think it was one of the most violent, hand-to-hand combat situations. Without thinking I ask, “How was it?” I watched his hands on the steering wheel. A white knuckle grip. He said, “It was a kinetic situation.” He paused again and then said, “I had to write that letter, make that phone call, go to those people’s houses, tell their families.” I thought I knew the guy, and realized the error of my assumption. He gets out of the car, shakes my hand and tells me, “Keep going, what you’re doing, keep going.”

OBSTACLES

It’s eerie, but from 1976 to 2006, not a single negative comment about the game came from a child or parent. Left, right, or center. They wholly supported the game and saw what it was doing for the kids. There were people, however, who did challenge the validity of the game. Those were the individuals caught in the conceptual framework of what ought to taught in classrooms. In one instance, someone told me, “It is in the way of getting in front of math and reading. We want high scores, and your game doesn’t allow us to get quantifiable data.” As an educator, often times you are asked to teach things you are not prepared to do, or asked to teach in a way that you don’t believe benefits the children. I’ve resigned five times in my teaching career, because I thought what I was being asked of was not right for the children. The first time I resigned was one year after The World Peace Game was invented. You could see the resignation was indirectly because of the game, when I was asked to put it away. But I believed in the ideals of the game so much. I had to do it anyway. It wasn’t about the game so much, but about the right way to teach. As an educator, there is nothing more important than a trusting, cooperative administration. It is key to your career.

50 YEARS OUT

When you teach and educate, you aren’t just teaching the kid in front of you, you are teaching generations ahead, fifty years out. I’ve seen it too, in the grandchild of the child I’ve taught. It’s bittersweet, because you don’t know if this kid who you’ve spent so much time with, if you’ll ever see them again. Sometimes kids come back too and tell me the effect of the game. One of my old students saw my Ted Talk about The World Peace Game on accident. She told me she definitely thinks some of her achievements had derived from the game. She ended up attending University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, getting a degree in World & Political studies with a focus in International Diplomas. I remember she used to be so good at solving problems.

“You aren’t just teaching the kid in front of you, you are teaching generations ahead, fifty years out.”

CHARLOTTESVILLE & ITS EDUCATORS

As long as we have humans, what we will need will be compassion. There is a community of family in the educators in Charlottesville. The ground, the ideals, of this community supported the game. People made The World Peace Game take off for me. I have to call Charlottesville home. It’s a great place to raise kids and teach kids. The people here are forward thinking, open minded, active, and innovative. They offer their gifts to others and want to make a massive amount of good happen. The base here is supporting the pursuit of liberty, justice, and universal happiness that Jefferson and others like him developed. That echo has to be in the ground, in the soil. People here listen to an echo in their minds of what that’s about. Charlottesville is a place where almost anything positive can happen.

“Charlottesville is a place where almost anything positive can happen.”

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