World Peace Game inventor John Hunter to headline local TEDx event

John Hunter, whose game-based approach to teaching conflict resolution has gained traction worldwide, is set to speak at Charlottesville’s upcoming TEDx idea festival. Photo courtesy TEDx. John Hunter, whose game-based approach to teaching conflict resolution has gained traction worldwide, is set to speak at Charlottesville’s upcoming TEDx idea festival. Photo courtesy TEDx.

Thirty-five years ago, Charlottesville resident and aspiring educator John Hunter had his first job interview for a teaching position at Richmond Community High School. When he questioned the supervisor about the curriculum, she said there wasn’t one.

“I asked her ‘What should I do?’” said Hunter. “She said, ‘What do you want to do? Think about children’s passions.’”

The open-ended approach inspired Hunter to develop a curriculum incorporating social studies and critical thinking skills with one of the crazes of the day: board games.

What he created was the World Peace Game, a hands-on political simulation placing students in the positions of world leaders attempting to solve a series of interlocking, real-world crises—famine, war, nuclear disasters, global warming, and mineral and water rights. The game has been adopted by teachers across the country as well as imitated by school programs worldwide, and Hunter has taken the concept on the road. His speech on the game at the 2011 TED conference—an annual idea fest that counts Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and a host of Nobel Prize winners as past participants—was voted the year’s most influential talk. Now, he’s going local as one of 18 presenters at Charlottesville’s November 15 TEDx event, a community version of the global festival, organized by Red Light Management and Charlottesville realtor Roger Voisinet.

The key idea behind Hunter’s game is a system that rewards solving issues with minimal conflict, something that’s in line with his own studies of Ghandian thought. “I had a great experience in being influenced by that culture, and by that concept of Ahimsa, or non-violence,” said Hunter. “It’s something I carry even now.”

In 2010, the game became the subject of a documentary film directed by Charlottesville-based filmmaker Chris Farina, who heard of Hunter’s work and visited one of his classes.

“He’s a masterful teacher,” said Farina. “The students look within themselves for answers. He guides them through their own abilities. He doesn’t tell them what to learn or what to know. It makes it a deeper learning experience.”

And not just for kids. “When he was on stage, in front of 1,600 people, he had them in tears. He had them laughing,” Farina said. “He’s one of those guys who lifts up everyone in the room. When he speaks, there’s a sense of hopefulness in it.”

Hunter said he is proud of the influence he’s seen the game have on students over the years.

“The educational outcomes are something I observe over decades,” he said. “I have students coming back to tell me how the game has influenced their own lives,” like the fourth-grader he taught who wrote him a letter to tell him she’s now studying global conflict at the University of North Carolina.

Hunter and his game are well-known in town, but he hinted his TEDx talk may have some unexpected elements. “There’s going to be a surprise,” he said. He also intends to honor the people who taught him to teach, and the generations yet to come.

“I stand on the shoulders of my teachers,” he said. “I will be looking back in homage and looking forward in homage.”—Matthew Fay


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