During the week of November 13th through 17th, upper elementary and middle school students at The New Century School participated in a very special nationwide event: the World Peace Game (WPG). Said Head of School Alicia Danyali, “We chose the World Peace Game to be a part of the the curriculum since it is in line with TNCS’s focus on global citizenship, which includes problem solving. Both of these areas also make up part of the TNCS student learner profile.”
Teaching Children the Work of Peace
Started in 1978 by Virginia native John Hunter, this special game, according to the website, “is a hands-on political simulation that gives players the opportunity to explore the connectedness of the global community through the lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war. The goal of the game is to extricate each country from dangerous circumstances and achieve global prosperity with the least amount of military intervention. As ‘nation teams,’ students will gain greater understanding of the critical impact of information and how it is used.”
At TNCS, the game was facilitated by science teacher Jon Wallace, who attended training for this role over the summer in Charlottesville, VA. “The World Peace Game was not all fun and games,” he said—and, indeed, “teaching children the work of peace” is ultimately about “learning to live and work comfortably in the unknown.”
So, from 10:00 am through 2:30 pm for 5 days, TNCS 4th- through 7th-graders stepped up to the challenge of finding themselves in unfamiliar, chaotic, and sometimes dangerous real-world situations, assuming various political roles among four fictional countries, such as prime ministers, secretaries of state, ministers of defense, CFOs, and secretaries of trade and commerce, among others. WPG places enormous problems before students that must be solved within a strict time constraint and requiring collaboration and creativity. The first 2 days demanded a lot of patience and attention from students because they had to learn how to play—the facilitator presented descriptions about how the leadership of each nation was structured, geographic and economic details about each country, and the specifics of each of the 50 crises the teams would face. They also had to familiarize themselves with one very complicated game board. The following 3 days involved negotiations between the nations teams in order to solve each crisis.
(As randomly assembled as the board may appear, each component and game piece is stipulated by the rules of the game. To gather them all, they must be purchased from a parts list. For the assembly itself, we have TNCS Facilities Manager Christine Rice to thank. Ms. Rice, a former contractor, is evidently quite the handywoman!)
Learning how to work with each other is a stated goal of WPG. Mr Wallace explains: “Part of the game is, simply put, being thrown into chaos, into positions you’ve never performed, and having to negotiate in order to win. If countries don’t communicate, the game is over. Interestingly, you don’t really state the purpose of the game to the students; you kind of let them have their way about it. They don’t really know how you win. So, after the game was over, a couple of students wondered who won. It was interesting to see how different students were looking at it.”
It turns out, in order to win the game, all participating nation teams need to be at least $1 above their initial budget, and all crises must be resolved. Mr Wallace reports that the hardest part for his students to get a handle on was accounting and keeping good track of budget records. “When you’re dealing with 4th graders, you can’t expect perfectly accurate accounting. They’re trying to account for losses and gains, but it’s extremely difficult. But, as facilitator, I can decide if they have managed well enough. For me it was a matter of, “is the CFO trying?’,” he said.
As for the participants themselves, WPG players are supposed to be volunteers, but in TNCS’s game, they were more or less “conscripted.” This meant that some were more enthusiastic than others. “I know some kids felt, ‘I don’t like this mentality,’ and other kids were really into it, which to me is reflective of what goes on in the classroom in terms of willingness to get something done. Some have that ‘middle school malaise,’ whereas others are more like, “I want to learn just for fun; count me in’,” he explained.
The mandatory participation also meant that students who don’t necessarily get along well had to nevertheless play together:
We had a number of students who hadn’t volunteered, so that adds a little extra difficulty because they really had no desire to be there, which made it difficult for some of the leaders to motivate them. Even though I picked the Prime Ministers, and the PMs picked their cabinets and did the best they could, assuming that it would be a smooth situation, it doesn’t always work out that way. On one team, everything was really flowing and working, but if every team were like that, the game wouldn’t really do much because they’re already communicating so well. The purpose of the game is to put kids in an uncomfortable position so chaos does happen, and somehow they have to figure out how to cut through that and communicate well enough to get something done. The threat of loss has to be part of the game.
Playing the Game
Mr. Wallace provided the following synopsis of the TNCS players and what happened during their game.
The Weather Goddess’s job is of great importance in the game: She determines the severity of storms and what impact that might have on each nation. She must make quick, on-the-spot decisions that have serious consequences for the four nations involved. Student KH did a tremendous job and had to make necessary decisions that inevitably caused hardship for some players. One of her many roles is to enforce participant conduct laws that, if not followed, may result in a country incurring heavy financial penalties. For example, speaking out during a nation’s declaration period may result in a $10 million fine. Our weather goddess reached a point when she was almost unable to enforce the laws due to negative feedback by those fined. Yet, KH recovered, understanding that her role was simply that, a role. She saw that it was a role necessary for the game to be played, just as laws in our society must exist to preserve order and provide a stable platform for peace.
Each country had a different initial budget. Peacia, an ice-locked poor nation, had many early challenges to face in order to keep their budget in check. They were able to solve a crisis involving a volcanic eruption that threatened a nearby nuclear power plant. Prime Minister AI found that the struggle to maintain lines of communication doesn’t just exist between countries, but also within countries. The greatest obstacles to peace may lie within a country rather than between countries.
Richy Hill, an oil rich nation, had serious issues right off the bat as they were short a CFO. This greatly impacted their ability to manage money. It didn’t take long for their entire fleet of aircraft to be permanently grounded due to lack of refueling. Prime Minister DI had a lot on his plate. Fortunately, Chief Legal Counsel IM stepped into the CFO position, literally saving the nation from looming financial crisis. Prime Minister DI was able to stop a massive money hemorrhage caused by the nuclear proliferation by his own country. He saw the need for nukes was secondary to the need for cash.
Richland, the wealthiest of nations, had many crises including a mountainous region that not only contained gold, but also the remains of NIN, a tribe of peoples that had existed in the area for thousands of years prior to the formation of the nations. What was more important, the gold or the ancestral remains of the NIN? It isn’t easy to give up gold, but Prime Minister FC didn’t blink and allowed the NIN to keep their ancestral burial ground intact. Nice work! Her cabinet worked outstandingly well together. We witnessed a nation that was functioning well in Richland.
Folium, an eco-oriented nation, accomplished much. It seemed that they were all too willing to accept refugees but had to solve the problems that refugees bring. Folium was willing and able to work with other leaders to spread the refugees all over world in order to reduce the financial woes that come with being a bit too nice. Relations between Richland and Folium were in jeopardy due to a secret island owned by Richland that also had been used by the NIN for worshiping purposes for thousands of years. Tensions boil over with the threat of violence between the tanks and soldiers of Richland and Folium. Both countries came together and negotiated swiftly, bringing peace to the area by simply dividing the island. These two countries made it look easy.
An unusual occurrence happened in this game when members of Folium broke off to form a separate independent nation called Coralfield. Coralfield’s apparent mission was to facilitate the negotiation process between nations by providing a greater area for peace to occur. Fascinating idea! Co-Prime Ministers PH and NB took on development and leadership of this new nation.
The role of the World Bank in the game is to receive checks and keep an accounting of the payments of all nations. President DL did an excellent job keeping track of payments. At times it seemed as though President DL’s pen was smoking hot due to all the receipts he was writing. Nice work!
The Role of the UN in this game is to maintain peace worldwide. Secretary General ED did a wonderful job living up this role as world peacekeeper. He was in constant motion and took on the responsibility of tracking crises completed and yet to be completed. The UN also helped nations with providing extra funds.
The Arms Dealers are tasked with providing small arms to nations but may also design and invent new creations that are not necessarily providing fuel for war. President WM designed an oil gusher cap that cost a bunch of the UN’s money.
Last but not least, the Legal Counsel was tasked with ratifying treaties from the UN. Chief Legal Counsel IM did an outstanding job not only with checking treaties but also with helping out whereever help was needed. She worked as CFO for Richy Hill and generally really stepped up. Nice work!
World Peace Is in Their Hands
You can exhale—we are safe for the moment. Mr. Wallace said, “There were plenty of tense moments and times when students just wanted to quit. The majority who stood strong and would not accept failure are responsible for the win. They are the leaders of our future, the ones who have a chance at making the world a better place. It is not going to be easy. The obstacles will seem insurmountable at times, but we have seen that peace can be achieved.”
You’ll also be very relieved to learn that John Hunter has never lost in the nearly 40 years he has been playing. (Talk about hope for the future!)
In response to what he ultimately though of this experience, Mr. Wallace said, “I think it tends to magnify the social scene in a good way. A lot of things that weren’t obvious became obvious, in terms of interactions. That can make things difficult, and, for some, it made things very difficult. There are a lot of emotions that come out when you’re Prime Minister and you’re trying to get your cabinet together but they don’t want to be together. It’s a hard role for some students who have never been put in those roles before, having to lead others and so forth.”
Although having willing volunteers would makes things easier for both participants and for the facilitator, the EPG became a real lesson in how to make something work when the situation is not straightforward or ideal. “That’s the real world, you know?” said Mr. Wallace. “That’s the cool thing. As far as a learning experience, it made it better for the leaders because that is the way the world works. It was real in that sense,” he said.
As far as how he thinks the game went overall, he feels it went just as it should. “There were times when students were really discouraged, which is normal, but they had to work together to get through it, and they eventually did.”
Now that he is trained, a process that involved watching John Hunter himself play the game, taking notes, then discussing what happened with other trainees,” Mr. Wallace thinks WPG could potentially happen annually at TNCS. “The philosophy of the game is that it can be run every year, but it runs better if students have no idea, going in cold.,” he explained. “Otherwise it may be too easy, especially for folks who volunteered to be involved. It’s not that difficult if you already know how to get it to happen. But the way I look at it, the game can go many different ways, and the facilitator can throw a lot of sticks in the wheel if he or she chooses to.”
For this initial game, our friendly facilitator did not intervene to complicate the already complex events students were embroiled in. However, Saboteur LR did a good job of gumming up the works from time to time: “His job is to just make things hard. And he is an anonymous person in the room, so the players don’t know who it is. They can have a trial to see if they have an accusations or suspicions about his identity,” said Mr. Wallace. “There are so many variables—like 350 pages of different possibilities.”
In some ways WPG shaped students or brought out nascent qualities that Mr. Wallace was very pleased to see. “I thought it was fascinating to see some really step up and try to help out in ways we don’t always see in the classroom.” Others who are usually motivated to try anything were not so surprising, if no less vital. “If we didn’t have these leaders,” said Mr. Wallace, “the game would have sunk, and there’s nothing I could do about it.”
It sounds like we’ll be in good hands once these youngsters grow up to take the helm! In the meantime, watch John Hunter’s TED Talk to learn more about this truly wondrous enterprise.