Transcripts

'World Peace Game' Teaches Kids Cooperation, Compassion

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and we're calling today's show Global D.C. Why Global D.C.? Well, it turns out more than one in eight D.C. residents come from outside the United States. In the District's public schools you can find students hailing from 133 different countries and speaking more than 100 different languages. Then, of course, we have the suburbs where you can also find quite the international mix. So in honor of this incredible diversity we'll devote the next hour to traveling the globe without leaving the region.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:46
We'll meet members of the local Salvadoran community.

MS. CATALINA SOL

00:00:49
It was a place where people could identify where they came and others would know what that meant, without having to explain a lot.

SHEIR

00:00:55
And we'll talk with a vet who studies global pandemics.

DR. SUZAN MURRAY

00:00:58
The surveillance has really steeped up a lot and we've managed to identify over 200 new viruses.

SHEIR

00:01:04
Plus, we'll explore the rapidly-changing neighborhood of Chinatown.

MR. RAYMOND WONG

00:01:08
But of course you didn't see the office buildings, the convention center. You didn't see any of the tourists here. It was just neighborhood people.

SHEIR

00:01:25
But before we get to all that, I want you to think back, back to your childhood. A very specific part of your childhood, actually, fourth grade. Now, think about it, what were you doing back in fourth grade in school, I mean. Were you practicing fractions? Were you learning photosynthesis? Maybe you were studying the British colonization of the New World?

SHEIR

00:01:47
Well, let's fast-forward to now, where a modern-day fourth grader named Sarah Schmidt has been up to something a little bit different.

MISS SARAH SCHMIDT

00:01:54
We made the treaty last week about buying the land. And once we bought the land we bought 20,000 troops, with our solar-power plants, our two submarines and our oxygen-production plant. So now we're scattering them and making sure that areas are covered for military strike.

SHEIR

00:02:13
Sarah Schmidt, you see, isn't just a fourth grader at Agnor-Hurt Elementary School in Charlottesville, Va. Sarah Schmidt is an officer in the United Nations.

SCHMIDT

00:02:22
I'm the CFO, helping out with all the military stuff that's going on.

SHEIR

00:02:27
And this morning, there's a ton of military stuff going on. Because we're several weeks in to the World Peace Game, a geo-political simulation dreamed up in 1978, by Sarah's teacher, John Hunter. And he's written all about his adventures with the game in a brand new book, "World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements."

SHEIR

00:02:47
Can you show me what's going on here?

MR. JOHN HUNTER

00:02:48
All right. It's a 4' by 4' by 4' Plexiglas structure. There's an undersea level down here. And a ground and sea level with factories and cities and troops and ICBMs and religious shrines and all the things we have on earth. We've got an aircraft level, with territorial air space and air forces, clouds and weather that move around randomly. And then we have an outer-space layer with asteroid mining, satellites, and even a black hole right there. The kids have to solve that, too.

SHEIR

00:03:21
As Hunter says, the kids have to solve that, too, because it's one of the 50 global crises he presents to his students at the start of the World Peace Game. And these 50 crises run the gamut, I mean, we're talking famines…

HUNTER

00:03:34
Ethnic and religious and minority rights disputes…

SHEIR

00:03:37
…endangered species…

HUNTER

00:03:38
…a hazardous waste spill from a nuclear power plant. And there's also a chemical power plant involved right near farmland.

SHEIR

00:03:43
Not to mention, breakaway Republics...

HUNTER

00:03:45
And an oil spill…

SHEIR

00:03:46
…climate change…

HUNTER

00:03:47
Things like that. Intractable stuff.

SHEIR

00:03:49
And the way Hunter's designed it, all these crises the students must solve are interconnected.

HUNTER

00:03:55
There's no conventional solution. They have to create and invent a solution. I, myself, who invented it, can't figure it out. I can't solve it.

SHEIR

00:04:01
The students play in four teams, each representing an imaginary country.

HUNTER

00:04:05
And the names change with each group of students that play the game. They name their own countries.

SHEIR

00:04:09
They also take on leadership roles in their countries.

HUNTER

00:04:13
Prime minister, secretary of state, a minister of defense and CFO, Chief Financial Officer.

SHEIR

00:04:17
Students who aren't in the four countries, like our UN CFO Sarah Schmidt, take on other roles.

HUNTER

00:04:23
We have a United Nation's body, arms dealers and a World Bank body, as well.

SHEIR

00:04:27
Hunter also assigns two more positions, the saboteur and the weather god or goddess.

HUNTER

00:04:33
And they're there really to offset the children's good intentions.

SHEIR

00:04:38
The saboteur does that through, well, you guessed it, sabotage.

HUNTER

00:04:42
Through ambiguity or misdirection, misinformation and a small budget with mercenaries and a couple of ICBMs, they're trying to destabilize the entire game. Everybody knows that person's in the room. Nobody knows who it is. So it causes every student to have to think more critically and deeply about everything that's said in the room, all the time.

SHEIR

00:05:01
As for the weather god or goddess, this time around, that role is being played by Kaitlyn Galloway. And she has two spin boards. She uses one to control the stock market.

MISS KAITLYN GALLOWAY

00:05:12
You can spin for no change in your stocks. You can spin for stocks skyrocket, stocks plummet.

SHEIR

00:05:17
And she uses the other to control the weather.

GALLOWAY

00:05:21
There can be fair weather, tornado on the Capital, sub-zero cold snaps, sand storm, blizzard, cloud cover 100 percent and the tsunami in the west coast, hurricanes, too.

SHEIR

00:05:34
With so much going on, Kaitlyn admits that, initially, the World Peace Game was pretty scary.

GALLOWAY

00:05:39
It was pretty nerve-wracking at first. There's a lot of problems in the world that we should solve.

SHEIR

00:05:45
But she eventually realized how much you can achieve when you cooperate with your fellow players. And Sarah Schmidt agrees.

SCHMIDT

00:05:51
Teamwork has a big role in this game because if you don't get along it could be a long way down the pain train.

SHEIR

00:05:59
Because as John Hunter points out, to win the World Peace Game students must make two things happen. One…

HUNTER

00:06:05
They solve all 50 crises.

SHEIR

00:06:06
And two…

HUNTER

00:06:08
Every country's asset value must have increased past its starting point.

SHEIR

00:06:11
And you simply can't do either without collaborating, Hunter says. H remembers this one game, a few years back, where it was the final day of play and the students had worked out all the crises, every single one. But the asset value of the poorest country was down, and we're talking way down.

HUNTER

00:06:28
And up until, I think the last three or four seconds on the clock we were struggling with a solution.

SHEIR

00:06:33
That's when the prime minister of the wealthiest country had this eureka moment and he asked all the other countries, plus the U.N., to pool their funds and donate them to the struggling country. And just like that, the game was won.

HUNTER

00:06:46
The collaboration that comes about, I don't have to teach it, I don't have to preach it. If you can allow the learning to happen organically and it comes from within them and within their own experience, it's so much richer and deeper and it lasts so much longer than if it's imposed from outside.

SHEIR

00:07:00
John Hunter has been playing the World Peace Game for more than three decades, at his school, in summer camps, he's even played with students in Norway. And get this, in all that time, he's never seen students lose. Not once.

HUNTER

00:07:15
And sometimes it's a very dire situation where it doesn't seem possible, but they've always managed to win the game.

SHEIR

00:07:19
Part of it, he says, is how his students collaborate. But another part is how he behaves. He doesn't butt in to the game or tell his students what to do, what not to do. Instead, he treats these CFOs and prime ministers and secretaries of state as peers. Equals.

HUNTER

00:07:36
So together, we become co-teachers. And they, in this safe place, can say, well, we'll just try. If it doesn't work, we'll try something else. If it doesn't work we'll trying something else. We'll get better and better trying and eventually they win.

SHEIR

00:07:47
And they save the world.

HUNTER

00:07:49
They save the world every time. And they're going to grow up and hopefully be able to do that for real.

SHEIR

00:07:54
You can find more information on World Peace and other fourth-grade achievements and see photos of that 4' by 4' by 4' Plexiglass structure on our website, metroconnection.org.
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