Renowned educator John Hunter kicked-off the 2013-2014 Kent State University at Stark Featured Speakers Series with his presentation “World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements.”
Complexity is all about perspective.
John Hunter knows that well. Sometimes, solving the world’s most complex political problems requires a few small steps back and a big change of perspective.
Last week, Hunter kicked-off the 2013-2014 Kent State University at Stark Featured Speakers Series with his presentation “World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements.” In doing so, he highlighted the best that teachers have to offer and explored the kind of education that most impacts students.
Hunter, a world-renown educator, has dedicated his career to helping students realize their full potential. In the process, he’s been reminded about the importance of things such as humility and The Golden Rule.
Year after year, Hunter has seen students of all ages apply those basic rules of childhood to real-life political issues. Through the development of “The World Peace Game” – a classroom activity that requires students to take on roles of diplomats and dignitaries to solve a real-world problem – he has watched his students tackle and solve the unsolvable. They’ve discussed complex issues from managing chemical weapons to bringing an end to wars.
“Together, we look at the problem and they solve it every time,” Hunter said. “They solve it in ways in I could never expect, never predict. … (They solve it) in ways that are real and logical and they do it every time.”
Hunter quickly discovered that in order for the learning experiment to work, he had to imbed real-world problems in fictitious countries. Basing the lessons too heavily on current world issues muddied the waters when children talked about the lessons with parents. Before long, Hunter said, the children were bringing adult “baggage” to the discussions, forming ideas around the opinions of their parents.
Children, when problem-solving on their own, can do incredible things, Hunter said.
“They come with fresh perspectives, open-minded and open-hearted,” Hunter said. “… They don’t know that things can’t be done and they come at (problems) with a sense of wonder.”
But The World Peace game does more than just allow students to flex their creative and analytical thinking. It creates an environment where they are free to explore, ask questions, experiment and – yes – fail.
“There is not much preparation on how to fail,” Hunter said, noting that awards and trophies are given for every small accomplishment. “We are teaching them how to come through adversity.”
Hunter admits he was never the perfect student and the World Peace Game is designed with that in mind. He said he lacked a vision for what he wanted to do with his career and he was never focused on schooling in the traditional sense. It wasn’t until he saw a sign on campus promoting an “experimental” approach to education that he finally found his calling as a teacher.
The new approach encouraged learning on a broad scale, meeting students where they were and propelling them to discover the world in ways that were meaningful to them.
“The inspiration of it was not to be told what to do or to follow a path,” Hunter said. “I was to find a path.”
Today, as Hunter travels the globe to share the insights of his World Peace Game and garner insights from some of the world’s best educators, he sees that same reasoning shining through.
“‘Find out what they are passionate about,” Hunter remembers one teacher telling him, “‘and build the curriculum to that.’”
The best teachers in the world, Hunter said, are so passionate about what they do, so passionate about their students, that they go to great lengths to inspire.
“That’s the kind of master teacher that I would see (in my travels),” Hunter said. “They would become so involved that they would lose themselves.”
When teachers lose themselves in their work – when they let the students take the reins and lead the learning and discovery – the job becomes less about the daily grind and more about the excitement that learning brings.
When that happens, Hunter finds he’s not the only teacher in the room. The children, in return, are often teaching him.
In his classrooms, Hunter said, “I’ve had 30 co-teachers – 30 partners.”
While it’s critical to challenge the limits of education and push students to their greatest potential, Hunter encourages teachers, administrators and lawmakers to remember that the most effective education can’t be represented by state and national standards.
“One-size minimum and maximum standards do not fit all,” Hunter said. “… Children are infinite creatures.”
They just need to learn to apply that knowledge.
For more information about John Hunter and The World Peace Game, visit www.worldpeacegame.org