“Welcome to the World Peace Game. I’m very, very sorry, but you’re going to have to have fun today.”
That is how alumnus and teacher John Hunter (B.S.‘77) introduces his fourth- and fifth-grade students in Charlottesville, Va., each year to The World Peace Game, a hands-on political simulator he invented more than 30 years ago to help them understand how the global community is connected and resolves conflict.
Hunter and Charlottesville filmmaker Chris Farina introduced the game to the world in an hourlong documentary “World Peace … and other 4th-grade achievements,” which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
Played on a 4-foot-tall, four-level Plexiglas tower, the game pits four fictional countries against each other in every way – politically, socially, militarily and economically – and a group of about 30 Gifted Education students have to think their way out of some very chaotic situations without combat, if possible.
Situations include global warming, toxic spills and water rights. The countries are poor, moderately wealthy and wealthy; some are on the verge of collapse.
Students assume the roles of arms dealer, the United Nations, prime minister and even a Confusion Agent who works in secret to spread disinformation to make the game collapse.
Farina was introduced to Hunter through a mutual friend. Within five minutes of watching the game and Hunter at work, Farina thought it could be the foundation of a good film.
“I agreed to do the film to shine a light into what teachers do,” Hunter said. “I want people to see the kind of high-level thinking these students are capable of and ask themselves why many adults can’t think this way.”
The film traces how Hunter’s unique teaching career emerges from his own diverse background. An African-American educated in segregated schools,
where his mother was his fourth-grade teacher, Hunter was one of seven students to integrate a previously all white middle school in Chesterfield County, Va.
In the mid-1970s, Hunter enrolled in an experimental teacher-training program at the VCU School of Education. Now closed, it was an alternative to the regular education program, allowing new teachers to get in the classroom immediately, instead of waiting for their practicum experiences at the end of their four-or-five-year degree program. He studied under “phenomenal” instructors, such as Peter Madden, Sam Craver, Nancy Borax, Dean Howell, Jim Hodges and Nick Sharp.
During his VCU years, he traveled and studied comparative religions and philosophy throughout Japan, India and China. It was while in India, the cradle
of Gandhian thought, that Hunter – intrigued by the principles of nonviolence – began to think of how his profession might contribute to peace in the world.
After graduating in 1977, he began teaching at Richmond Community High School in Richmond, Va. He became chair of its social studies department and
taught a unit on Africa. That is when the idea for the game came to him.
“Being new, I wanted to try something different beyond book learning and lecture,” he said. “So I bought some plywood and built a simple 4-by-4-
by-4 game. We studied Africa and pulled real world problems from it, breaking the kids into teams to solve them.”
Since its premier in February, the film has been shown to audiences in Charlottesville and Richmond, Va., and at the Newport Beach Film Festival in Newport Beach, Calif., where it received an “Outstanding Achievement
in Filmmaking” award.
Despite his new stardom, Hunter insists his day job still is educator.
“That is what VCU taught me to do.”