Recently I managed to eavesdrop and observe as diplomats from around the globe gathered to converse at UVA’s Darden Business School. Their objective: to achieve world peace.

Seriously, this happened just two weeks ago, and I was there, watching as world leaders worked diligently to address issues such as global warming, territory disputes, undersea and on-land oil mining, the rise and fall of the stock market, and last but not least, war. I met Prime Ministers, CFOs, Secretaries of State, and the President of the World Bank. It took the group five days, but the goal was achieved. Not bad for 10 and 11 year olds!

I’m talking, of course, about educator John Hunter’s World Peace Game Academy held at Darden this summer for rising 4th and 5th grade students. Inspired by his travels studying Japanese, Chinese and Indian philosophies, John created and developed this amazing teaching-tool “game” more than 20 years ago, and he has been tweaking and perfecting the process ever since.

How is the game played? Try this on for size: a class of 4th grade students is divided into several groups, with each group representing a different country. The children take on the roles of various world leaders and are given a set number of class periods in which to work through environmental, economic, and social crises, including the most difficult one of all – war. In order to win the game, there can be no conflicts or crises in or between countries by the end of the allotted game time. Not so easy, eh?

It is fascinating — an art really — to watch John as he guides his students through this process. To me, his true gift — to the children and to the educational system as a whole — is his Zen-like ability to give the game over to the kids; to put it (the world) in their capable hands and minds. Sure, he guides a little; he gently probes, and he instigates, but the decisions are made wholly and collectively by the children. In today’s classroom environment, sadly, the focus seems to be more and more on testing and test scores and less on giving children real opportunities to reason, brainstorm and problem solve. Seriously — I have to ask — is multiple choice really an option when it comes to global decision making? Or any form of everyday problem solving for that matter? Perhaps our future leaders could just rely on the old standby “Rock, Paper, Scissors…”

O.K. — I won’t go off. I’ll just close by saying you have to love it when the state of the world balances on a three tiered playing board and the arbitration of 10 year olds. And how do the kids do, you ask? Much better than the grownups, I can tell you. Only once in the history of the game has a class not succeeded. Makes me wonder…wouldn’t it be nice if one day our real world leaders invited John and his students (tomorrow’s diplomats) to join them in the meeting room? If Mr. Hunter can inspire hundreds of elementary school children to work together as a global community, just imagine what he could do at a United Nations gathering. I’m just sayin’…

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