Eeesh, this is a little embarrassing. Apparently, I have not had a book recollection post since December of 2012 – that being Drop Dead Healthy (link here). I have been reading, but I ended up getting caught up in a technical book which tends to be very consuming. Reading items that don’t require a lot of retention can be parsed through pretty quick, but those requiring some validation of premise or a need to sink data into long term memory take a little more care and feeding (at least for me). Not sure when I was going to make it through the other book, I made a small detour to a book my furry kids got me for Father’s Day. Thanks to a destination decision for the 4th of July this year I was able to devour this book in no time. So with no further delay, I would like to introduce you to World Peach and Other 4th Grade Achievements. Kind of a catchy title don’t you think? This book by John Hunter came to my attention thanks to an NPR interview which had John on as a guest. He was brought on to explain a teaching mechanism he had developed called the World Peace Game – an interesting teaching approach he utilizes on his 4th and 5th grade students over something like 35 years.
I have always been kind of interested in different approaches to teaching .. regardless of age. Something is definitely wrong with America’s education system evident by young adults that can’t make change at local restaurants and now high profile cases with witnesses that cannot make a coherent sentence or even read cursive writing. I definitely do NOT have the silver bullet to fix this, but it seems obvious to me something has to CHANGE. At first more rigid testing seems logical but then I read Freakonomics and learned how the Chicago corruption gamed the system. Then there’s the other side that advocates for cuddle schools and want to bath the students in only positive actions and god forbid any red markers! I guarantee you the latter is not the answer. John has taken something more creative to the education system. His game immerses students in an artificial world made of nations, a banking system, world organizations (UN) and various sects (religious, green etc.), arms dealers and even an overseer of weather and odds based outcomes that crop up during game play . The game takes place on a plexiglass environments representing earth, water, air and even space. The core objective is to resolve a tangled web of 50 crisis while increasing the assets of all the countries involved. This is the part that intrigued me. Here we have 4th and 5th graders dealing with adult level issue and global concerns in a fun, interactive and truly collaborative setting. No little circles to fill out with a number two pencil or regurgitating the word of the day. Nope, these kids are electing cabinets, managing a country’s budget, establishing treaties and making decisions that have deep ramifications on the entire progression of the game. In my opinion, there is a LOT to like about this – applied education which I’ve always advocated and looked for when involved in recruiting/hiring activities for my employer. Unfortunately, we have to wait a while before these students will make it into the corporate world but looking back this would have been a significant improvement over my personal education experience.
After listening to the NPR interview, I stumbled upon John’s TED talk where he went through additional details of the game. If you get a chance, check out that presentation, it is quite impressive. John is one of those soft spoken individuals that has a true passion to see his students succeed. John has a slightly different perspective on life than I admittedly possess – more open compassion for humanity which not surprisingly allows John to proclaim he is both a beatnik and a pacifist. A lot of the latter was honed in his participation in Far East philosophies. Generally I would be concerned that this personal belief would become an overpowering influence in the classroom which I am very wary of – insert examples of socialist educators planting garbage in the fertile minds of high school and college kids. John’s approach is different than expected, he is not an active participant in the game preferring to let the students come to conclusions on their own and only interjecting questions and concepts to consider when an issue might arise where the kids either might act to hastily or not consider all the implications when dealing with a situation. John believes there is a common process for learning consisting of the following phases – Overload/Confusion, Failure, Personal Understanding, Collaboration, Click, Flow and then Application of Understanding. Based on my experiences and observations, this is very similar to the corporate world where one is faced with problems without known answers (think Engineering and IT Architect disciplines if you need examples). Here we have 4th and 5th graders being exposed to this where there are some that make it out of college completely oblivious to what it takes to be successful in life.
The aspect of the book that really gripped me above and beyond all the things to like about the concept, was his “book of truth” err bible if you will that was leveraged as a guiding light through the course of the game. I’d ask you to guess what this might be for the Game of Peace, but doubt you would even come close. The answer is the Art of War by Sun Tzu. Having spent a lot of my free time in the past learning martial arts and the associated philosophies, I too am very familiar with this instructional manual – although admittedly I’ve lost some of the detail over the years. So here we have a pacifist leveraging the authoritative tome on war to drive concepts in a game focused on compassion and peace. Quite fascinating again another reason to like this approach – before anyone not familiar with the concepts in this book starts going off that this has no right to be in our school system (especially at that level) need to to spend some time reading it (or at least the referenced passages in John’s book) before proclaiming their ignorance to others.
I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read. As alluded to earlier, we decided to go early to a 4th of July fireworks display event which provided a good 3 hours of non-stop reading which is a very rare opportunity these days. John’s is on to something here and looking forward to see how that plays out now that his TED talk and the new documentary on it is gaining some exposure. Will our education system embrace a method that teaches our children real world techniques are continue to wallow in standardized tests? The ending chapter on their trip to the Pentagon was very informative both in tidbits learned about that place and the fact that an organization devoted to the war machine took time out to answer very probing questions from the students who had recently been through the Game of Peace experience. If there is one thing that would have improved this book, it would have been additional interviews of adults who played this game. I really wanted to know how it shaped their life, what they thought of the experience looking back and if my premise of them being better equipped to take on day to day challenges is valid. John had a small sampling (maybe 2 or 3), but more would have left me more satisfied.
I give this book two thumbs up both from the way John introduces and takes the reader through the principles in the game. As you can probably tell, I’m a proponent of the message and wouldn’t mind a few world leaders being forced to spend some time in a 4th grade classroom and participate in the game as well – maybe they would learn something that could make them more successful at actually being LEADERS.
Give it a read, or check out the TED presentation – if you have an open mind you will not be disappointed.
Hit the jump to read about my key takeaways.