Peace of mind

Inside the crowded Long Beach Performing Arts Center, on a stage that hosted the likes of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former U.S. military commander Stanley McChrystal during the preceding 48 hours, Albemarle County school teacher John Hunter interrupted his speech to take attendance.

What did Albemarle County gifted teacher and World Peace Game creator John Hunter think of the TED conference? “A spontaneous eruption of collaboration,” he says—much like his classroom when the game is played.

“If Al Gore is here, I’m going to send my fourth graders from Agnor-Hurt and Venable elementary schools to see you,” said Hunter during TED2011, an annual conference featuring lectures from experts in the fields of technology, education, design and beyond. “Because they solved global warming in a week.”

Last year, filmmaker Chris Farina’s World Peace…and Other Fourth Grade Achievements premiered to a packed Paramount Theater. The film documents Hunter’s personal evolution as well as the longtime local teacher’s curious and inventive board game—a 4′ cube littered with pieces, governed by a lengthy global crisis dossier as well as the competing curiosities of his students.

“I allow them to go there and, through their own experience, learn in a bloodless way how not to do what they consider to be the wrong thing,” Hunter told a visibly rapt TED audience. “And they find out what is right their own way, their own selves.”

Hunter’s appearance at TED is a high water mark for both teacher and filmmaker. During the last year, Hunter and Farina traveled extensively to discuss the World Peace Game and film. While the TED conference landed the pair among other inventive figures—including Al Gore, who received a copy of the film—it also raises the question of where they will head next.

Farina, who said the film cost roughly $120,000 to make, says he would love to see World Peace broadcast nationally. “I would think by June 1, we should have a fixed commitment on that,” he tells C-VILLE by phone. Farina declined to name networks, but says, “We’ve been talking with a few different entities.” The film has already been broadcast internationally, in South Korea and Israel, and rumor has it that at least one major premium cable network is interested. For his next project, Farina says he would like to make a film about the Jefferson School, Charlottesville’s historic all-black school that is currently undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation.

Following the March TED conference, attendees and presenters mingled at a picnic, where Hunter says he and Farina received loads of business cards—from would-be collaborators and developers, individuals who want to host the pair for a talk or work with them. (Hunter says he received multiple inquiries from programmers who want to develop a digital version of the World Peace Game.) The pair plans to travel for similar presentations at Google’s headquarters in California, the Aspen Institute and—frankly, the list goes on for some time.

However, Hunter says he “can’t afford to take a lot of time from the classroom.” And while he is thinking about the legacy of the World Peace game, and recently began the process of launching a nonprofit to help students develop tools “that decrease suffering and increase compassion through problem solving,” Hunter plans to remain at Agnor-Hurt.

“I’ll still play with them,” says Hunter, “if they’ll still play with me.” 

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