They also solved global warming. In a week.
The class is led by a charismatic longtime teacher whose past led him to think in unexpected ways. He was one of a handful of children chosen to integrate an all-white Virginia school, then wandered through Asia studying religion and philosophy before devising a game to teach kids how to solve problems. “They are learning to decrease suffering in the world,” John Hunter said, “and increase compassion.”
Suddenly, people from Harvard to the United Nations are listening. And that includes Panetta, who said recently that the United States was within an inch of war almost every day in the area around North Korea.
Whether the Pentagon invitation was an innovative way to bring inspiration to a stolid institution or an odd play by officials mired in endless warfare, the kids in the class are pretty sure of one thing: The class got the officials thinking.
“The impact was really profound on us here at the Pentagon,” said Beth Flores, director of the Leadership and Organizational Development Office of the under secretary of defense for policy.
This odd partnership — military leaders and young kids learning from one another — started with a game that Hunter’s Agnor-Hurt Elementary School students play: the World Peace Game. The children work to solve thorny problems erupting around the map. Everyone has to win for the game to be won.
Inspired by Gandhian principles, the game aims to get players to build harmony while accepting the reality of violence, Hunter said. He talks about fostering the Buddhist concept of “emptiness,” the space and serenity to think deeply about complex issues.
Plus, he wants it to be fun.
The game has four countries with made-up names but real-world problems: cyberattacks, ballooning debt, ethnic tensions.
Hunter tells the students that he doesn’t know how to solve the problems, so they will have to figure out a way. Their collective wisdom, he said, is much greater than his.
A summons to Washington
Over eight weeks, they play the game, small people carrying dossiers, negotiating deals, starting wars. When Hunter rings the bell to start the game, something between a hum and a roar fills the classroom as they argue and barter, pout, form alliances, cut deals and, sometimes, have a little temper tantrum.
Sarah Schmidt, who is 9, was chief financial officer of a large country, a diplomat and, secretly, a saboteur chosen by Hunter to undermine everything. No one suspected, she said, for the longest time. “Then I went quick. They got vicious when I tried to coup d’etat my prime minister.”