PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Review: Hunter, World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements

John Hunter, World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). $25.00 hardcover.

worldpeaceThis is very much a book about inspiration: the inspiration that led educator John Hunter to develop a complex game of international politics playable by an entire class of schoolchildren, and of the inspiration that his students have evidentally found in playing his “World Peace Game” over the years. In this book he discusses the development of the simulation, offers vignettes of student participation, and even recounts some of his battles with school administrators who were more concerned with “teaching to the test” than developing critical thinking and cooperative problem-solving skills in his pupils.

In the World Peace Game, students assume the role of decision-makers in four or five very different countries, ranging from rich and powerful to poor and weak. Some also play the role of United Nations or World Bank officials, international arms dealers, or even the “weather goddess” who adjudicates some key events. Games go on for days, or are even played out over several weeks.

Readers will not find a detailed discussion of the rules of Hunter’s game in this book, however, nor are they provided with a great deal of technical advice on how to develop the mechanics of their own version. Instead, his focus is largely on the intellectual journey of personal self-discovery that the game is meant to encourage. In this regard, he identifies seven stages through which his players generally progress over the days and weeks of play. The first is that of overload and failure, as  students wrestle with some fifty real-world problems embedded in the game, including resource scarcity, environmental degradation, global inequality and development, national self-determination, non-state armed groups, the threat of nuclear war. Almost inevitably, they must confront failure as rivalries emerge and initial plans go awry. In doing so, however, he hopes they acquire greater personal understanding of their own strengths, weaknesses, and potentialities, as well as the contributions of others. This leads on to improved collaboration, and then that point where something will “click,” a breakthrough will be made in resolving some major challenges, and this will lead on to a flow in which the children enthusiastically embrace the challenge of overcoming new obstacles. Finally, and most importantly, there comes the application of understanding, whereby the players learn how to apply the skills honed in the game in a broader sense—and in so doing, derive a broader sense of empowerment.

Although the university students with whom I typically run simulation are considerably older than the primary and early secondary school children that the World Peace Game was designed for, I was struck by a number of parallels. Like Hunter, I too immerse my students in an initially overwhelming fictional world of myriad real-world challenges. I too find that initial failure is common, but that students find ways of cooperating and push themselves to develop new, innovative ways of overcoming obstacles. In debriefs and post-simulation testing, participants stress the extent to which the process had helped to develop personal skills as well as expanding their understanding of issues. In the ongoing debate between the art and science of game design, Hunter very much comes across as an artist, for whom weaving an engaging narrative and leveraging an empathetic understanding of his players are central to a successful exercise.

At times, World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements can be almost too positive in its tone, and the use of quote marks for statements by children that couldn’t possibly be recalled verbatim by the author can be a little annoying. Nevertheless, educators thinking of introducing simulation methods in the classroom will find much of value in this book. Experienced game designers will enjoy the vignettes, both for the infectious joy of young learning they reflect and because more than a few will remind them of game players past—even much older and more experienced ones.

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Additional information on the World Peace Game can be found at the World Peace Game Foundation, in John Hunter’s TED talk , and in the documentary World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements, excerpted below.

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