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In 1978, John Hunter was a young teacher looking to make social studies relevant to inner-city kids. What he came up with: a four-by-four piece of plywood on which students attempted to solve the problems of Africa. Over time, this board became multidimensional, growing to encompass nations, prime ministers, the U.N. and the World Bank. The goal is to solve geo-political problems with the least amount of military intervention. And for Hunter, it’s come to represent a philosophy of education. John Hunter joins Diane to talk about “The World Peace Game” and three decades of teaching.
Excerpted from WORLD PEACE AND OTHER 4th-GRADE ACHIEVEMENTS by John Hunter. Copyright © 2013 by John Hunter. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Cyber Attacks, ethnic tensions abroad, climate change. Sounds like an agenda for the president. They're also the problems John Hunter fourth grade students tackle when they play the world peace game. He developed it 35 years ago. Over the decades not only has the game evolved, it's caught the attention of the Pentagon and the U.N. here to talk about the world peace game, and how it's informed his views on education and teaching, John Hunter.
MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled "World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements." And throughout the hour I'll look forward to hearing from you. Join us by phone at 800-433-8850. Send us email to email@example.com, follow us Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to you, John.
MR. JOHN TURNERThank you, Diane, so much for having me.
REHMSo 35 years ago what set you to thinking about this?
TURNERWell, you know, Diane, it was actually not having a directive. When I first became a teacher, my first supervisor, I asked her, what should I do? I wanted to do a good job, and she simply stunned me. She said, what do you want to do? And that was so surprising, so shocking, and I really entered the first year of teaching with no map, no guideline, no mandate, and I had to simply create out of that empty space something for the students. And of course, I had been instructed earlier in college to think about their passions, what they loved and cared about and build curriculum to and around that. So that was really the beginning of it in 1978.
REHMAnd what did you come up with early on?
TURNERWell, they had to -- the curriculum required they study Africa. So I had to teach that. That was our hard limit. That was a given. And I knew that their passion in 1978 was board games. We didn't have Facebook or Twitter or anything, so it was only board games. And I think problem solving had just been invented around that time as a technique. So I included those things together, sort of a -- I guess you'd call it a mash up, and came up with the first world peace game. A four foot by five plywood board on the floor populated with hundreds of little game pieces and a map of Africa outlined.
TURNERAnd I thought, well, let's solve all the problems of the continent. And the students, not knowing that we couldn't, or we weren't allowed to, just began to do it. It became the game, and that was the beginning.
REHMSo what does it look like now? It's far more sophisticated.
TURNEROh, yeah. It's evolved, and I will say the students have given suggestions. But one night about 2:00 a.m. in the morning, I just had this insight, because I kept pushing, how can this be better, how can it require deeper engagement. And suddenly I saw the entire structure there in my mind. It was a four foot by four foot by four foot Plexiglas tower. There were four horizontal sheets of Plexiglas, four foot by four foot, a quarter inch thick, and they were stacked vertically above one another so that the whole structure rose to about four and a half feet.
TURNERIt towers over my nine year olds in my Fourth Grade classroom. And so that was the structure, and of course, every level emulated something of the Earth. There was the undersea level, the ground and sea level, the aircraft level and the outer space level. And then I arranged teams or cabinets around the board to begin solving the world's problems on a 3-D sort of fashion.
REHMSo I want listeners to know that if they go to our website, drshow.org, you can see photographs and even a video of this game. So what do the kids do? One thing that you read to them early on, set this up for us and -- well, let's hear it first.
TURNERSo Sun Tzu's first two quotes, and these quotes are contradictory. Here they are. The first one is, he says, "There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged war." You might have read about some things in the news along this line too, whether things have gone on too long in certain parts of the world in warfare now. Second quote from Sun Tzu, "It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on."
REHMTell me what you chose those passages to begin every game.
TURNERWell, you know, Diane, the students really brought that to me. One of the students came and said my mother reads this book. She's a business woman, and she reads it every night, and I think we could use it in the game. And so I brought it to the students as I always do, and we discussed it, decided to use it, and I will go through that little manual before every session, and pull some pertinent quote, and just allow a moment of reflection afterwards for the students to think about what this 2500 Chinese general is proposing.
TURNERThey say he's a man of war, but we really learned to use the manual as a way to arrive at peace. It's kind of counter intuitive, but students learn what not to do and how not to do it in their own way and their own time without my teaching it or preaching it.
REHMYou know, it does go back to your own development even before you became a teacher. Tell us about that.
TURNERWell, Diane, I grew up in the segregated south in the sixties. My mother was a schoolteacher who actually taught me in the fourth grade. My father was a very great spatial, tactile thinker. He was a mechanic. And together, the family home was very quiet. There was kind of a peacefulness, and I even now call it an empty space where things were allowed to flourish and develop before we had to address them. So that habit of pausing and reflection and introspection was allowed and supported, and answers were rarely given.
TURNERWe would be asked what do we think, and consider this for a while, and think about it and reflect on it. So we'd have to come to our own decision, our own conclusion, and of course, our parents would support or guide that, but there was so much space allowed in that. And I sort of followed that in developing my own teaching habit, I think.
REHMYou finished high school and then began and dropped out of college.
TURNERYes. Several times.
REHMHow many times?
TURNERI think three times I dropped out of college.
TURNERWell, you know, I didn't feel comfortable. I didn't feel there was anything of any meaning or value. Nowadays I laugh at that. But I thought there was a bigger world, and I had to be a part of it now. So where were things happening in the early seventies? It appeared that the interesting place was India, and this deep introspection and the philosophy and contemplation, so I had to go. So I drop out and buy a ticket and go to India and roam around for months, and finally I came back the last time after my trips and my mother and father just begged me, please, just finish a degree in something.
TURNERWe don't care what it is, just finish. We know you'll need this tool. And so I reluctantly went back to the college and did reinstate and finish a degree in early childhood education as a matter of fact.
REHMYou weren't even sure what that was going to be?
TURNEROh, I had no idea. I knew that I registered for an experimental program which caught my interest to come to the university for the final time. Because of that word experimental, I went, I didn't know what it was about. It could have been dentistry, it could have been anything, but it happened to be in education, and so I was happily in the unknown, but yet the world experimental was my guide.
REHMSo what you did was take that empty space that you had as a child growing up to think, to contemplate, to consider what the next step was going to be, and you used the metaphor of an empty space for the game. What do you mean there?
TURNERThat's right, Diane. The ability or the opening to allow time for reflection, and time to mull over and ruminate and contemplate, you know, in our modern culture we don't really have enough time. Things are coming at us so fast, from so many directions, particularly our young children, that they hardly have time to digest and reflection and understand at a deeper level. So I knew I had to build in some time as things were speeding up over the decades.
TURNERSo we allow reflection or allow experiences and learning that put the students in a place where we don't know the answer. They've got to ruminate, reflect, and contemplate possibilities, and even try and fail. We train for failure because that's a part of life as well. So allowing all those open spaces where things might not go well, things might turn out differently. That's a great, deeper part of learning, I believe.
REHMTell me how the game begins. How do the kids get named to their various posts?
TURNERSure. Well, they come in the room and first they're overwhelmed with this structure. They don't know what it is, or what we're getting into. There is absolutely no preparation, vocabulary, history, anything before they come in. I believe they should start cold, from zero on equal footing together. And I will choose the leadership. Each cabinet has a prime minister, a secretary of state, a minister of defense, and a CFO, or chief financial officer. The UN has a UN secretary general. The World Bank has a president and a CEO and CFO, and of course we have the arms dealers.
TURNERThe president of that company too. So I'll choose the leadership based on my intuitive understanding of what each student needs, and they in turn choose their cabinets, and they choose anyone. I advise them not just to think about their friends, because their friends may not be the best person for those jobs. And once they have their cabinet set, I give them 50 interlocking global problems, sort of ripped from the headlines and modified for children, and we use fictional countries.
TURNERWe don't use real countries because I found early on students simply copied solutions that their parents or the news services were supplying. So we actually give them a chance, an open space to develop their own country, and then they come at it from a different, fresher angle, I think.
REHMSo, when they begin, you give them a problem. Give me an example.
TURNERWell, actually they get all 50 at once. The idea is to overwhelm them with complexity. We don't prechew in bite size bits as we might have been taught earlier as teachers that children's minds can't handle anything but a little bit at a time. So they're given the entire sequence all at once, and we try to break the problems into various problems that resonate in the world. We have sort of ethnic and religious and minority tensions, water rights problems and so forth.
TURNEROne particular one I love, and it's so interdependent, we have a very poor, ice-locked country, and they have an island off shore where oil has just been discovered. The people are facing famine. They need funding revenue right away, so they're tempted to go and just drill. But there's a microscopic life form right on that site. If they drill, they have a choice to make. Are they going to cause extinction of this life form, or are they going to use the oil revenue to feed their people?
TURNERMeanwhile in another country, very ecologically oriented, has surrounded that island, has invaded their territorial water space, surrounded the island, and said, no, you will not drill. Meanwhile, another country offers to buy the island outright from the owners and say, we're going to just take it over and do what we want to do. And then, of course, at the end we can't even find what the treaty is to say whether or not it's owned by those people.
REHMJohn Hunter. He's an award-winning teacher. His new book is titled "World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements." Stay with us.
REHMAnd here's a message from our website. Michelle writes, "I first met Mr. Hunter online as a TED speaker in a system bogged down in testing, he's a beacon for those of us out in the trenches still trying to work with vastness and tools that might save us all. I love him for his naive hope that this can still happen." Is it a naive hope, do you believe?
MR. JOHN HUNTERWell, you know, Diane, we have to have it, otherwise, you know, what's the alternative? And I think the open vista that children present that they can become anything, that we can afford to write off even one child, maybe the child who comes up with a cure for Alzheimer's or who ends poverty and hunger. We have to include them all. And so with that hope burning, all teachers know what I'm talking about, we have to go as is this is going to be the way -- this is going to work. There's no other way and we have to discuss them all.
REHMNow we have an example here of a heated exchange between two prime ministers. Let's hear it.
HUNTEROkay, we'll start with Prime Minister Cohen. Will you stand and say who you're speaking on behalf of and let's see your decorations, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1I speak on behalf of Pakistan and (word?). This is part of (unintelligible) are a part of Pakistan. So this is basically owned by Pakistan.
HUNTERAre you saying Pakistan now owns part of (word?) is what you're claiming, sir. Is that correct?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2I am Prime Minister Thompson of (word?) I did not offer it Pakistan. I offered it to Stefan as a home land, which had no part of Pakistan at all. I offered it as a -- we offered it as he could have land as a home land, but I did not offered it to Pakistan. I offered to Stefan. I offered to the land's leader only. I did not offer it to Pakistan, which I'm trying to explain.
HUNTERAll right. Can we work this out? Negotiation time. You might want to call a U.N. mediator in on this.
#2Yeah, I would like to that.
REHMSee? I mean, this whole game sounds pretty complex and even confusing for nine and ten-year-olds.
HUNTERAbsolutely, and it should be. It should be so confusing they have to figure it out. And I don't even know how they're going to do that. But I've allowed them even the heat in this situation we just heard to be up at the edge of the precipice. Of course, as a teacher, we have to be concern about safety, psychic and physical. So you're prepared to catch them if they're really going to step off the edge.
HUNTERBut you allow them to go up to that space to test their limits, push the envelope and it's all governed by the underlying relationship. We know where we're going to go. We know how far we're going to go because we love and trust and care for each other. We built that environment to start.
REHMThat love and trust may exist as the game begins. But it sounds as though there are some real divisiveness there.
HUNTERAbsolutely. And it's designed in. The game is designed to fail massively. They're allowed to be human. I even tempt them to be reactive, to be impulsive, to look at the darker side of things and yet still go through it and come out the other side experientially rather than saying, no, no, this is the right way, please don't even think about that. I find that I short circuit on learning by telling them no and what the right answer is upfront.
HUNTERAnd in this game, I don't even know what the right answer is. They have to discover it. And, Diane, they always come up with taking care of each other and compassion. I don't even have to teach it. I didn't know that was going to happen, but they always find a way to include everyone in their calculations, ultimately.
REHMYou said it was on a trip to China where the game really took place in your mind. What happened?
HUNTERWell, I was on a train going up to Shanghai. I think I was in Guangzhou at the time and two teenage girls, two Chinese girls came into my car. They want to practice their English. They're coming from Hong Kong to visit grandmother in the summertime. And so we talked for four, five hours on the train. And finally, one question they asked at the end really stumped me and struck me.
HUNTERThey said, sir, where do you belong? Who are your people? And because I've been so multicultural and had been in so many parts of the world and consider myself a world citizen, that question really unnerved a bit and I had to really think about nationalism and patriotism and all those kinds of local issues we think about that make us belong to a certain people.
REHMAnd what about race? Does that come in to your thinking?
HUNTEROh, absolutely. You know, I was in the vanguard of a small group of students who were sent to integrate schools in 1967, '68. We didn't know what was going to happen. It was sort of paralleling the race to the moon with the U.S. is trying to take astronauts to the moon. And none of us knew if we were coming back safely. But we have to go, it was a mission we had to undertake to see if we can expand and deepen the world that way for our people, for our race at the time. And now we found we are all one race. That's strange.
REHMHow did you come to give TED talk? And how did the clips that we're hearing, by the way are from the documentary about you and the World Peace game. The documentary is called, "World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements." How did all that come about, John?
HUNTERWell, Diane, you mentioned a great part of the story and this was in 2006. A mutual friend introduced me to Chris Farina. Chris Farina is an independent filmmaker with Rosalia Film Company in Charlottesville, VA. And he came in and said, you know, I'd like to just observe this game. So he stayed for about a year watching this eight to ten-week exercise. And he said, I'd like to make a film.
HUNTERI watched a couple of Chris' other films, "Main Street" and "Route 40" quiet is sort of his approach to things. And I said, you can take the quietest approach into this World Peace game chaos, you're welcome to it. So we made a film we'd never would do anything. He submitted it to South by Southwest. It'd gotten great reviews. The Bergen International Film Festival took the film abroad.
HUNTERChris and I were there. We were mobbed by high school students at the screenings who wanted to be teachers because of the film. Chris made a film that's not just about me as a teacher, it became a film about teaching and teachers in general. And that was such a great thing. I saw myself disappear and I saw my mother and all my teachers whose shoulders I'm standing on appear through me.
HUNTERSo Chris made a beautiful document to the profession really. And so we're just using that. And one day we get a call from Chris Anderson at TED, you know, Technology Entertainment and Design. And I was a nobody. I'm a small town schoolteacher, Chris is an independent filmmaker from a small town. Suddenly we're on a world stage in Long Beach, CA. And we give a talk that seemed to resonate.
HUNTERAnd, you know, we're just doing our best to try and share the work and share the information and it took off from there.
REHMHow long do you think that this game could apply in other areas of teaching?
HUNTERWell, you know, we -- in teaching, of course, the game is designed to be interdisciplinary. So you got math, you got science, you got arts, everything we can get our hands on in one game. And I know a lot of teachers are taking that approach. We've got to make sure we're solving for X. We don't know what our students are going to be doing in the future. We can't even imagine what they're going to face.
HUNTERHow you teach today, how you teach for something you as a teacher cannot imagine or see? You've got to find a way. And so we build conceptual toolkits that can be used in any situation, under any circumstance because they're going to have to deal with something we may not live to see. And it's going to be even more important. I mean, looking at the state of the world now, they're going to be our hopes, our only hopes to pull things out of this deep path we find ourselves in.
REHMNow, I'd like to hear a couple of students speaking.
#1Mr. Hunter really sometimes frustrates me. When I say can I do this, and he says, anything can happen. But he never ever answers your question deliberately.
MR. CHRIS FARINAWhy do you think he does that?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3He doesn't...
#1He wants us to learn. He wants to solve our own questions.
#3And when you're a grownup, no one will -- you can't ask anybody and they won't tell you what to do. You have to figure it out on yourself.
HUNTERFigure it out on yourself.
REHMAnd you have to figure it out on yourself.
HUNTERIsn't it cool?
REHMSo these kids are at one and at the same time frustrated and enlightened by the fact that you do not answer questions.
HUNTERWell, I don't answer, Diane, because often I don't know the answer. And this is what I admit to them right upfront when we meet. Boys and girls, I don't know the answer to everything. You're going to have to help me. And just simple sentence actually empowers the entire classroom to feel that they are teachers and we are co-teachers together. I have 30 co-teachers in a room. They're half my height and they all have immense and unique wisdom.
HUNTERAnd together, putting our heads together, we'd come up with solutions for things that I as a singular teacher could never do. And so I've learned to respect that and to some extent cede control of the learning to them. I ask them, what shall we do whenever we have something we must do. How should we do it? And how might we fail? Let's look at that before we even begin.
HUNTERAnd how would we know we have succeeded? What will success look like? We look at all that upfront to our backwards design upfront assessment. Jay McTighe would talk about. We're trying to get a handle on a whole scope of things and they're in charge of that, not just me.
REHMHow would that apply, for example, to mathematics?
HUNTERWell, students might be asked about their hobby, their passion. So let's say we have some skateboarders in middle school. That's all they care about. That's all they're interested in. I'm a math teacher. What am I going to do? They're not interested in geometry. But if I show an interest in their passion, so tell me about that skate park. You say you need an inclined plane. What's that? Oh, well, that's this.
HUNTERAnd you need a ramp? Well, you know what circumference is, right? No. And soon enough, they're deeply involved in geometry and building or designing their own skateboard park based on mathematical principles that they had no interest a few minutes earlier. It's line of least resistance we call it. You find out what their passion is and you sneak in with techniques and methods and their passion powers the learning.
HUNTERThey drive the learning with their love of something you've respected and included in the lesson.
REHMAnd the passage we began this program with Sun Tzu. How do you get them to read that book and to really understand it?
HUNTEROh, well, you know, I don't even have to try. They want to. They see this pocket science book with this exciting looking cover. We know we use it to help ourselves in the game and they end up buying their own copies and reading them at lunch time or on the playground at recess. And often the most amazing thing is they re-contextualized, reinterpret Sun Tzu in their own understanding, which I think is brilliant.
HUNTERThey go beyond the set descriptions and definitions that he gives and see it in their own way. And I think that's even a deeper stage of learning than just simply accepting what some authority has told us. To think of it in your own way, in your own understanding. And so they just read it at will whenever they feel like and they're carrying it around, they're quoting it to each other. It's so exciting to see and their interpretations are even more exciting.
REHMHow do you think that fourth grade experience carries it through?
HUNTEROh, Diane, that's the most heartwarming thing. And, you know, it's bittersweet as a teacher when a student leaves your classroom, fifth grade or whatever grade is the top of your school. And you may never see them again. And you lay awake at night years after wondering what happened to this one or how that one is doing. So through this game now and through social media primarily, I'm seeing students who played the game 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago coming back to me and telling me specifically, Mr. Hunter, this is what this game did for me.
HUNTERYou know, how gratifying and teachers know what I'm talking about to have someone who's left you and you put your heart and soul into them and they come back and tell you it made a difference.
REHMHow many schools around the country are using this?
HUNTERWell, we've had -- we had master classes we're actually offered the understanding about the game to other teachers. And we've had hundreds of teachers come through. I think maybe about 10 of them have adopted it. But, you know, the master classes are only possible because of our partnership. You know, we can't do anything alone as teachers. The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence in Memphis, TN.
HUNTERJamie Baker the executive director, Brad Martin who founded and funded this institute have made a partnership with Chris Farina and myself to carry this work forward. We couldn't do anything without them.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Paragould, AK. Gerry, you're on the air.
GERRYHey, Diane, thanks for having me. I love your show.
GERRYI was just calling, I kind of have a simple question, but I think it's simple, at least. You're talking about how the children -- well, it's obvious when we heard the children get pretty heated and they get into the roles. And I was just wondering if you've noticed as a teacher any sort of innate or natural developmental force coming out, are some children more democratic and some communistic and so on?
HUNTERThat's a great question, Gerry. You know, because we allow them to go their own way and develop their own understanding, sometimes the game is more rightward leaning, sometimes it's more leftward leaning.
HUNTERSometimes there's a group of super centrists. You know, they have to determine what is the right and proper way for living and surviving and solving these interlocking problems and raising the asset value of every country in the game simultaneously. So really, it's their determination. Over the years, I would say early on I saw more war-like actions. But in the last decade or so, I'd say there's much more a conciliatory behavior.
HUNTERMuch more of foresight and thinking about multiple consequences of every action. They're much more careful. So it had to be much more devious or creative in coming up with ways to push them to consider these considerations that they want to easily get out of.
REHMBut here's the contradictory element. The game is about peace. And you make war a central component.
HUNTERExactly, because that's like life, Diane. It emulates life. You know, we like to have success always and forever. But life is very wide open and vast and very -- wherever in our lives do we allow for failure to be a teaching force? We're allowing the students to fail in a safe, appropriate way so they can learn how to handle it because that's going to be a part of life. It is a part of life. Everything is interdependent.
REHMGive me an example of how a child might fail playing this game.
HUNTERWell, in the game here we have students who are trying to achieve world peace and often they think war is the way through. And they might go that way for a while. But in the book, we have one student Nilla (sp?) who stands up, suddenly just disgusted with our warlike behavior and gives us a lecture on having more compassion. She demands, we have it. Why aren't we doing this?
HUNTERWe have to take care of each other. And that failure that we been missing, we thought it was the right way through. Things were getting worse actually, electrifies the room and makes us see there's got to be a better way because we're losing. We're losing people. We're losing resources and we're having war that's certainly a method but there's got to be another way. And so she let us know that our failure was the way through.
HUNTERSo every obstacle, every failure is actually a great opportunity. And they turn the game around almost immediately after that.
REHMAnd there's a saboteur. Who or what is this saboteur?
HUNTERIt's my greatest piece, I think. Not always but the student who's often in the office were causing trouble in our school. That's the student I'm looking for. I got to the office and I say to that student, I need to use your skill set. You know, you're so creative, you're in the office all the time for getting in trouble. That creativity, I need to use in the service of the World Peace Game. So I ask the student to please their role in the game to try and achieve world peace publicly.
HUNTERBut seek a way through misinformation, misdirection, innuendo or even ambiguities and irrelevancies to please try and destroy this game. That's what they're trying to do. And everyone knows that person is in the room. Nobody knows who it is. But the thinking, that critical thinking must deepen in order for them to survive that. Knowing that person is there. And that the end of the game, that person is always celebrated.
HUNTERThank you so much for making the game so much more challenging for us. We loved it.
REHMThe principal of the school, how does he or she buy in into this?
HUNTERRight. You know, Diane, you've really got to have buy-in and support from your administrators. Visionary, trusting and caring, leadership is the only a teacher like I can survive. And so at my school, Michelle Kassner (sp?) for example, she says, I know you. I trust you. I hired you. Do what you must and I'll support you.
REHMJohn Hunter, he's new book is titled "World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements." Short break, right back.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, John Hunter is here. He's a 4th Grade teacher and he teaches through a game called World Peace. He's now written a book about his experience, his lifelong learning process. The book is titled "World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements." John Hunter, here's a posting on Twitter which says, "I work at a school. Does John Hunter travel to schools and inspire other teachers? How can I contact him?"
HUNTERWell, surely. Through the website that's sponsored by the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence and that's www.worldpeacegame.org. And that, of course, is part of the partnership where we have our master classes out on the road now all over the world. We were in Norway teaching a couple of years ago. We're going to be in Norway and Austria again next year. And that partnership has been so rich because there's a joy in working with other teachers.
HUNTERBut, you know, Diane, the thing is, the game -- we say the game is not about the game. Really if you go under the hood and look at the principles underneath the game, the deep meaning and learning and teaching that we hope is behind it, teachers look at that game as a Trojan Horse. If you open it up there's a mirror inside. And teachers, when we show it to them, really see their own deep practices. And we facilitate their practice going even deeper in these mystery classes.
REHMAll right. Here are some practical questions for you. Matthew in Cleveland, Ohio, you're on the air.
MATTHEWHi, thanks for taking my call.
MATTHEWI think this is a wonderful program and very fascinating to be able to listen to the whole thing later as a podcast. But I wanted to ask your guest what he thinks about the national common core standards.
HUNTERWell you know, what's I've done is really stay out of the politics of things. I'm a small-town school teacher. I have a limited perspective. I do know that the one thing that guides me is what my principal at one time at Venable school where the film was made, the documented "World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements."
REHMAnd, by the way, that is a public school, not a private school.
HUNTERI've only ever taught in public schools, Diane. Yeah, I have seen diversity in its finest. And my principal there, Ron Broadbent, I brought him a very convoluted question about a student, how to do it, what should be done, what should the parents be told? And he leaned back in his chair and he said, John, there's only one answer for all your questions as a teacher. How could there be one answer? And he said, the one answer is, do what's best for that child. There is no other answer.
HUNTERAnd so we have to look at specifics for every individual child. There's no one size fits all. It's impossible. We have to think about the individual because that's the way we want to be treated as adults so certainly we should think about our younger people in the same way.
REHMBut isn't your public school pressured to meet those common core initiatives and standardized testing processes?
HUNTERWe certainly have the standards to go to and my principal and my superintendent Pam Moran take a very pragmatic view, a very wise view, I think. My principal said -- to all the teachers I think she said at different times but to me specifically, she said, I know you. I hired you. I handpicked you. You're a professional and you know what to do. Go and do your absolute best for these children in any way possible. I will support you. I'll protect you. And together we will be able to do this.
HUNTERAnd every year the scores are tremendous at our school, with 23 different ethnic groups and languages, 650 kids, a free and reduced lunch program, a public school. And it's always been that way in that school.
REHMHere's another Twitter that says, "My formal education has come to an end but listening to John Hunter is making me remember all of my incredible teachers. And another, "Has John Hunter played the game with students who are not in 4th grade? How can my child play?
HUNTERWell actually, the game originated for 9th grade high school students. That's where I started it. And over my career I've been assigned to different grade levels, so we've worked from 4th grade all the way through now to adults. We play with adults in Norway, a multicultural cast there. So the Martin Institute has facilitated us having master classes involving teachers, and occasionally the game itself being played with 30 students from around the world altogether in one room for five days.
HUNTERAnd on our website you can see our summer schedule. Usually it's in the summer we can do these intensives. For next summer I think we have three sites, New Jersey, California and I believe we're going to be in Tennessee as well. But those are places people might apply to have their children come. And of course, other teachers are taking this on too so...
REHMHow many students can you take on at one time?
HUNTERI like large numbers, Diane. Twenty's almost too few for me. I think -- I've had 35 students successfully play. I think 30's a good solid number. You want that confusion, that overwhelming chaos. And the despair that comes with that initially and those initial failures -- because the students have to learn to work up and out of and through the experiments of trying and failing.
REHMOne thing I do want to talk about. Talk about the trip you made with your students to the Pentagon.
HUNTEROh my, Diane.
REHMHow did that come about?
HUNTERYou can imagine how we felt. We were screening the film for -- "A Design From Silicon Valley," IDEO Chris Rene and I. And a woman who was very well appointed, very well dressed came up afterwards and held out her card and said, Mr. Hunter we'd like to see you. The card said Defensive Department Pentagon. So Chris and I looked at each other and we thought we better make some time in our schedules to go see them.
HUNTERWell, Diane, we were ushered into the Pentagon past all that security. And we had the shock of our lives. We found out that Chris's documentary film -- Chris Rene's film had been screened four times at the Pentagon to different policy and military groups. They screened it a 5th time and had a two-hour deep and moving discussion with us about how to create space -- that empty space we were talking about -- around problems.
HUNTERWe'd been at war for ten years. We've lost friends. We're suffering. We're hurting. We're looking for answers anywhere we can. Please talk to us about that. And, you know, we thought we'd go in and see a heartless war machine. But there they were, people who were suffering. And then I got back home, still in awe, got a call saying, Mr. Hunter, we'd like for you to bring your 4th grade students to the Pentagon, ones who just played the game. We'd like to talk to them about how they do what they do.
HUNTERBecause they've had peace. They won the game for 35 years every time they played. So we went in and we got dressed up and I put them on real world country desks, the Pakistan desk, the Nigeria desk, the Mexico desk and they had to come up with a white paper and three questions, economic, military and social to ask at our mock press conference with the actual Pentagon press briefing secretary.
HUNTERAnd the students stumped him a couple of times, Diane. And then we were ushered into -- after our tour -- the office of then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Warm, affable, just grandfatherly.
HUNTERHe took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and he says, I want to talk to you about policy. This is not a photo op. We want to find out how these children can solve -- here's what we do about climate change. What do you do about it? Here's what we do about insurgents. How do you handle it? And the students could respond because they had lived through the experience. And it was such a moving moment for a teacher.
HUNTERAnd then they gave each one of them a coin at the end of the meeting, a signifier of our meeting, a very great honor actually. And so you know those children are changed so deeply. The fact that even somebody at that level is considering other ways, gives us all hope and is very heart warming.
REHMHere's to Burke, Va. Hi, Kim.
KIMHi, Diane. Thank you for having me on. I'm a teacher. I've been a teacher for over 20 years. My heart is skipping a beat listening to Mr. Hunter. And I have to say it makes you think of a million things as a teacher, as a creative teacher. And I have the good fortune to be a resource teacher. So I work with lots of classroom teachers. But then when you step into the reality of what happens in a school, and right now what happens with the push for standard testing and the data-driven everything, you start to feel crushed.
KIMAnd I just want to know how Mr. Hunter deals with this. How do you push on to present something so creative and so interesting and stimulating that all kids should be able to do? And we know that they should be able to do this in the face of people who are often not even teachers telling us that we can't do it anymore and we have to present data as to why everything we do is the right thing to do.
HUNTEROh, what a critical question at this time in history. You know, we need assessment. We need some testing to ascertain where we are and what the students have learned. But when that predominates, when that has the most emphasis, learning can become lost. And I know what I've had to do over my career is take the long view and understand that policies come and they go. About every five or seven years you get this huge new policy coming through. Teachers, you understand, And it's going to change the world. It's going to raise IQ scores. It's going to brighten our teeth. It's going to do everything for us. And it may or may not.
HUNTERSometimes they're disasters. Sometimes they're okay. But the critical fundamental thing that always remains is that one-on-one relationship between teacher and student. No matter the policy weather overhead. If it gets -- if it's harsh weather we pull on our coats. And if it's sunny we skip about. But the relationship remains and that's so fundamental. I really wish -- I guess you do too, my friend, but that teachers could make policy. We'd like to have experts who know what they're talking about make policy for other teachers. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
REHMThe idea of focusing that one-on-one relationship however gets tougher and tougher with larger classrooms.
HUNTERIt is a challenge, you know. And my principal Ron Broadbent also said to me, John, you're not here for your convenience or your comfort. You're here for these other children, all these children. You'll do whatever it takes because this is a service profession. We're here to serve. It may cost, it may be difficult, it may be hard, it may be unpleasant. If it's too much for you, you'll need to get out or change schools, change professions, whatever you need to do to preserve yourself of course.
HUNTERBut we're here to serve. And nobody said it's going to be a high-paying job and it's going to be a lot of vacation time. This is something about helping and serving others and developing compassion.
REHMI want to hear one more clip from that film and then you can tell us what it's all about.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4Now I'm feeling really weird because I'm living what Sun Tzu said. One week. One week he said those who go into battle and win will want to go back. And those who lose in battle will want to go back and win. And so I've been winning battles so I'm sort of going into battles -- more battles. And I think it's sort of weird to be living what Sun Tzu said.
REHMAgain, isn't there some contradiction to winning all the time? These students have always won the game.
HUNTERWell, you know, Diane, in our book we talk about the dangers of victory and the benefits of defeat. And they go through many defeats before they arrive at that final victory. They have to experience that side of it too, so it's not just a rosy, sunny picture all the way through. We're trying to develop global leaders through complex problem-solving, communication, collaboration and developing compassion across cultures.
REHMCompassion is so important.
HUNTERI keep saying that.
REHMHow do these kids exhibit that compassion?
HUNTERWell, oh, Diane, that's such a moving part. They will do things -- we played a game recently in one city where the arms dealers realized that their business -- their customers were -- they were losing customers because their business was so successful. So they decided to diversify. They liquidated their weapons business and went into energy, farms and construction. And eventually they became a charity by the end of the game. All on their own they saw, this is the way through. You know, if we eliminated all of our customers we're not going to be a good business anymore.
HUNTERSo logical ruled and they figured that out themselves. They didn't have to listen to me saying let's not use weapons. Let's be peaceful. They discovered it for themselves and their compassion led the way through the game.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Charlotte, N.C. Hi there, Amy.
AMYHi, Diane. Hi, Mr. Hunter.
AMYI wanted to tell you that I watched the documentary and it subsequently made me go to the website and look into this more. But I just wanted to tell you that you are phenomenal. It actually makes me smile listening to the documentary clips again and what the -- on the radio show and what the students said and experienced. And I'm just blown away by you and your creativity and how great a teacher you are. And I just wanted to say I commend you. And I'm so happy that we still have teachers like you.
HUNTERWell, you know -- thank you so much for that, but I can't accept it really. I have to accept it on behalf of my teachers and my colleagues. Because what we've seen with the Martin Institute traveling around the country, Jamie Baker and I, is that there are so many great teachers teaching. You know, you see a film or a media piece showing one difficult classroom, one disaster and you get this idea that everything is going wrong.
HUNTERWell, we've seen it firsthand. There are fantastic teachers everywhere and they just haven't had the fortune of having a filmmaker come into their classroom and make a movie. But there's so much good going on. I'm so optimistic now having met hundreds and thousands of teachers doing this great work, the unsung heroes of the profession. So I'm enthused and excited and I will pass your thanks on to my teachers who made me what I am and brought me here today.
REHMSo what's next?
HUNTERWell, it appears the world's wide open. There's an empty space in front of us, Diane. But we're going abroad quite a bit.
REHMYeah, you love those empty spaces.
HUNTERI know. It's a wonderful thing. Because of the support and the partnership of our Albemarle Public Schools and all the people there in Charlottesville who support us. And now around the world we're able to go where teachers would like for us to come and share this work with them. And again, our primary purpose it to inspire them to do their best work. We challenge them to develop the best curriculum they've ever, ever imagined or seen before they leave us.
HUNTERIt may be connected to the World Peace game, it may be not. The game is not about the game. It's about them and their work with their students.
REHMSo you're saying that each and every classroom may not wish to use this particular approach but may develop their own.
HUNTERIt isn't necessary. It's who you are and who your children are and looking at what they're passions are and what you care about and putting that together in your classroom to make the best. In spite of testing, in spite of all the assessments required, we're trying to create wonderful, loving human beings. And that I think is more the purpose of education. I used to think it was just passing on knowledge. Now I think compassion and caring about others and decreasing suffering is really a major part of our purpose as educators.
REHMAnd one last caller in Cincinnati, Ohio. Peter, we're almost out of time. Your question, please.
PETERWell, Diane, it is parental involvement. I spent my career heading major independent schools. Now I'm helping the Cincinnati public schools. And I would guess that Mr. Hunter is in a community where there are professional parents, parents deeply involved in their kids. I hope I'm wrong. I want to be proven wrong, but would he respond to that? I think if he went into the inner city of Washington, D.C., could he do this?
HUNTERWell, sir, we started -- the World Peace game started in an inner city school in Richmond, Va. It's a gifted high school designed for minority students who didn't have a shot otherwise. So my population has always been diverse. It's always been children all across the spectrum, in trouble and on the high end as well. We have some professional parents of course. We have parents who may not have any connection or wherewithal at school at all. And it's the whole world communities in public school. We have to take it on and we do.
REHMJohn Hunter. His new book is titled "World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements. The clips you heard this morning are from a documentary about John Hunter and the World Peace game. That too is titled "World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements." Congratulations and thank you for being here.
HUNTERThank you so much, Diane. Thank you.
REHMThanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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