A representative from the United Nations stood up.
“I believe we have solved the crisis of ethnic cleansing,” she said. The room erupted with applause.
The accomplishment was announced at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center on Thursday, where elementary and middle school students gathered for a weeklong camp to solve the world’s crises through a simulation called the World Peace Game.
The game was developed by local educator John Hunter in 1978. Watching the game-play were 25 teachers from around the world who have brought it to their own classrooms and came to Charlottesville for a World Peace Game master class.
Each day of the camp, after the students were done, the teachers at the conference shared strategies for how to promote the growth of the World Peace Game in their respective hometowns.
“There are so many teachers here who have a heart for the world and a heart to seek change, so being around them is really inspiring,” said Kate Johnston, who has taught the World Peace Game at the Youngsan International School in Seoul.
Four teachers from the Charlottesville-Albemarle area also were invited, with the hope that they will reintroduce a version of the World Peace Game into the local school systems.
First brought by Hunter to Charlottesville’s Venable Elementary and then Agnor-Hurt Elementary in Albemarle County, the game board is a four-tiered structure of Plexiglass. Students are divided into four countries and given the roles of prime minister, secretary of state, minister of defense or chief financial officer of their respective teams.
Those who do not join a country’s team become officials for the U.N., the World Bank, an international arms dealer or the Weather Goddess.
At the end of the week, students must have worked together to solve a series of international crises, spanning from ecological disasters to escalating religious tensions, in order to achieve world peace and win the game.
“Teachers now are totally charged with preparing kids for going into jobs that don’t yet exist,” Johnston said. “This game shows students that it’s OK if you don’t know the answers at first, but that doesn’t mean you can’t solve the problem.”
Educators have adapted the game to fit the cultural demands of their home schools. In Mali, for example, a team of teachers has used the game as a tool for civic education, as the hypotheticals of the game translate into realities taking place around their students.
Manuela Murariu, who teaches in Romania, noted how the issue of corruption arose as a major concern when her students played the game.
“Kids mirror what they see on television and in politics,” she said. “So corruption came up with my kids, because lots of politicians are being prosecuted for corruption in our country.”
Despite the variations, educators say certain common elements run through each version of the game, as children exercise critical thinking and gain confidence in their ability to tackle complex concepts.
“The game is the ultimate experience in education,” said Robin Moyle, who teaches the game across schools in Florida. “The children are so alive and engaged. They are learning everything through self-discovery.”
Tari St. Marie, a teacher from Colorado, agreed.
“I’ve noticed that my students who played the game were more creative and more innovative than I had given them credit for, and they had better ideas than I came up,” she said. “They inevitably leave the game with a stronger work ethic and more trust in their peers.”
Hunter has trained more than 2,500 teachers around the world in how to facilitate the game, but this marks the first time that veteran World Peace Game educators have come together to share strategies for the game’s implementation.
The World Peace Game can be difficult to define.
“The reason John [Hunter] brought us together is to figure out what the World Peace Game is,” said Jim Shapiro, a middle school teacher at a school in Brooklyn, New York. “I don’t think the game has a true bottom. When you throw the bucket down this particular well, as much rope you can let out, that’s as far you have to go.”
Erik Aarebrot, who organized the first international playing of the World Peace Game, also sought to use a metaphor to describe the game’s special place as an educational tool.
“Most teaching is already presented as a prepared dish,” he said. “With this game, you’re getting all the raw ingredients and making the meal together.”
The game is difficult to pin down, Hunter said, because “the game is not actually about the game. It is a tool for self-introspection and personal growth.”
“The game is the teacher,” he continued. “I’m there facilitating, but the students run into the consequences of the game, and they can’t argue with that.”
Photo: Ryan M. Kelly, The Daily Progress
Students make decisions and move pieces on the board during the World Peace Game at the Jefferson School City Center on Wednesday. Educators from around the world came to Charlottesville to observe the city’s first International World Peace Game and Master Class, which featured children aged 9-12 playing the game for the first time.