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.
- This game has been going on for 35 years and is generally played by fourth and fifth grade students at John’s various schools (including school for the gifted so we are not talking about our inner city profile … probably because it requires math and communication skills that seems to be a lost skill in those school systems – consider Zimmerman’s star witness as an example
- Consists of 4 nations, a religious island tribe, a desert clan, UN, a World Bank, arms dealers and a weather god/goddess responsible for many “outcomes” during the game through odds weighted dice rolls .. oh and a saboteur
- Game is initiated with 50 global crisis, takes place over 10 weeks and ends when they are all solved and every country’s asset values has increased
- The students are immersed in education from knowledge, creativity and wisdom
- John’s ultimate point of education is to express compassion in the world
- Really gained a following after Chris Farina made a documentary on it and then a TED talk (I became aware of it thanks to an NPR listen and then followed up with the TED video)
- Believes there are 7 stages of learning: Overload/Confusion (the 50 crisis at the start), Failure (only when known fails does the discovery of the unknown become an opportunity), Personal Understanding, Collaboration, Click (The Ah-Ha moment), Flow (unified progression), Application of Understanding
- “Space” is needed to understand – I really like this concept. Too often we frame up the problem give rigid bounds that force the student down the “expected” answer rather than letting the student observe, deduce and ultimately come to a decision – the keys to be successful in a career (well, the ones that pay well)
- John is practiced in the art of mindfulness – awareness of self, surroundings and others in that space
- Actually uses Sun Tzu’s the Art of War as the teaching framework. Interesting since it is a NOT a book on Peace although it has an underlying tone of defense over initial aggression. Seems like the 4th and 5th graders can relate to this philosophy which says a lot about our society these days with the news filled with violence and a war game at the ready for anyone who has a video console. I too have spent a lot of time with the book and glad to see someone is still making it relevant – now if only our leaders would embrace it we would be in a lot better place
- He starts the game by apologizing to the kids for leaving them a world in a sad and terrible state – I wonder if the current administration is willing to stand up and apologize for what they have done to the next generations
- John has studied the various philosophies of the East (Buddhism, Taoism etc) and it shows in his outlook on life – admitted pacifist
- All the crisis in the game are interlocked by design to teach the children the cause/effect relationships
- The Saboteur role is an interesting concept – giving the task of disruption to an unidentified student to add the elements of “unknown”. Seems like that student is getting a crash course on how to be devious. If the children figure out who it is they effectively remove that element from the game.
- Any chance you were having to deal with bonds, checks, interest rates, loans and financial flow when you were in 4th grade? Guessing not, more like learning the week’s new list of words or regurgitating whatever reading assignment might be handed out.
- John believes the key to being successful at the game is to have students that have intellectual stamina, possess the ability to interact constructively and not get frustrated by lack of closure during the game
- One principal requested he move the game outside the standard class day in favor of traditional standard testing – unbelievable – here we have the ability to stretch the student is true actionable and career oriented skills and the administration is more worried if they student can check the right box with a #2 pencil. Is our educational system in place to prepare for productive careers or to pigeon hole them in the tried (and failed) systems of the past. I wonder if these kids will be able to coherently address a courtroom as a witness should the situation arise.. or will they represent another failed product incapable of communicating – sorry about harping on that example but it is downright pathetic! John correctly points out the skills he is teaching can’t easily be quantified in the standard test framework – so change the framework!
- I found myself uttering AMEN at one very keen insight: “Failure is an essential part of any great endeavor, and if we can’t find a way to allow our children to experience failure – especially the best and the brightest – we are doing them an enormous disservice.” I think this should be plastered in ever teacher’s lounge, every education administrator’s office and tattooed on the forehead of every parent that thinks a red pen is forever going to emotionally stunt their precious baby. All you are doing is delaying the inevitable crash when they find out the world is not full of kid gloves. John feels this guards against hubris and doesn’t give the invaluable experience that anything can be useful – we learn from our mistakes. Eastern religions are steeped in this concept think the Yang and the Um (or Ying if you not accustomed to the Korean version). Failure and Success are temporary but both together make the whole. I thank all my martial arts instructors for hammering this concept into me. John also points out that failure forces us to go beyond results as success and evaluate instead on process. I am little torn on this since I still think results are the ultimate key, but as long as a lesson is learned from not meeting a goal can be just as valuable.
- John believes knowledge trumps faith – admittedly, I am in the same camp but he takes it a few steps further with knowledge leading to wisdom (okay with that) and then wisdom to compassion. I’m probably a ways from the latter level, in fact, wisdom is leading me down a very non-compassionate view of our current administration and what they are doing in the name of politics.
- One of his student’s parent’s riled against him for allowing the concept of war into the game and Peace is the only right way and that is the ONLY thing that should be taught. Sigh, I’ll just let this simmer in your thoughts and hope you come out with the same angst I have with this line of reasoning. For the record, John believes the students need exposure to the concepts and let them come to their own conclusions.
- Students have to write a condolence letter to fictional parents for any soldiers lost as a result of their decision to go war. I wonder if the violence on TV and video games has numbed our children to the concept of the finality of death – there are no re-spawns in the game of life
- The defining characteristic of the concept of a “Click” is there is a definite before and after state.
- There are always one or two tangential things I learn from a good read – One in this book was the explanation of Archimedes jumping out his bath and running naked to the king’s palace yelling Eureka…….which means (new to me) I have found it – the other one was Alfred Nobel created the Nobel Peace Prize because he was horrified by his invention of dynamite. Unfortunately, I could care less about that body these days seeing as how they had the nerve to give it to a certain drone happy president. Oh, and the Pentagon corridors would extend 17.5 miles end to end but designed so you can get from one point to another in only 7 minutes.
- The U.S. Air Force has a core principle of service before self – too bad this isn’t part of our politics’ DNA (The Air Force also believes in Excellence and Integrity)
- A Hot Wash is the Pentagon’s concept of self critique of recent actions. Leaving egos at the door to learn from every experience – notice how this fits with the concept of learning from failure – guessing they don’t bother with purple or other happy colors to perform this review
- One of his student’s parents mentioned she was grateful for John’s work but was shocked at being holed up in a car with four nine year old girls debating policy while on their way to soccer.