Civilizing Children to Civilize the World!

During times of staying with my son and family, and from the safe perspective of being a grandparent, I have watched my grandchildren from infancy to their current ages of 10, 7 and 5. I have witnessed how these children and their playmates learn to get what they want and how they deal with frustration and anger when they don’t. I have observed the efforts of my son and his wife as well as other parents of young children in curbing the aggressive, greedy, self-serving tendencies of their offspring. I have seen a progression of the parents struggling with telling their children: “no”, “don’t touch”, “don’t hit your brother/sister”, “you have to share”, “wait your turn”, “put your toys away”, “clean up your own mess”, “you’re in ‘time-out until you learn ___“, etc.  And I have reflected that all of this has interesting parallels to adult life and the world of politics.

A child’s first instinct is to grab for whatever they want whether it is good for them or not, whether it belongs to someone else, whether in grabbing it, it will be destroyed for everyone including themselves, or whether in doing it/taking it, it will be dangerous both for themselves and others. If they want it, they want it and go after it without much thought to consequences.

If they don’t succeed in getting what they want, or if another child wants it too, there can be a fight, a grab and run, a temper tantrum, or a lot of crying. There can be a real hissy fit–“if I can’t have what I want, then I am going to destroy whatever is nearby.” Or here is one also prevalent amongst grownups in neighborhood subdivisions: “If I can’t have it/do it, I am going to make sure you can’t either.”

I watched one child spend a lot of time building a very elaborate lego structure when a younger sibling innocently or without any thought took away a piece of the tower his older brother just built, whereupon the first child was so upset that he destroyed his own creation. I have witnessed the children lie about their wrongdoing to avoid punishment, maintain parental approval, or avoid diminishment of their own ego. I have also witnessed them trying to shift blame for their misdeeds onto a sibling. I have watched one child repeatedly trying to play off one parent with another–the classic divide and conquer strategy that is being used in identity politics today on both national and global levels. “If I can get those people to fight, they will be so busy that I’ll avoid punishment and get what I want.”

On the other hand, I have also noticed random acts of kindness, compassion, loving acts. I have seen one sibling sticking up for another, and fighting against perceived injustice.

But in the face of such aggressive and greedy natural proclivities, and surrounded by so much violence in movies, video games, and our culture, can parents really teach children to outgrow such tendencies to become adults that really think through the consequences of their actions, and to be able to avoid war and instead cooperate to solve the massive problems we face as a species?

The World Peace Game

Yesterday, I watched a documentary “World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements” on what one Charlottesville, Virginia teacher, Mr. John Hunter, is doing to teach children to think through dealing with the tough challenges of life. He does this through a game he designed 40 years ago called World Peace. Instead of attempting to protect children from the harsh realities of life (as if you really could), this game teaches children the importance of thinking through the consequences of their actions rather than just screaming in protest, rushing to attack, or retreating in fear. While teaching the importance of protecting and looking out for the common good of their ‘country’ and preserving their own resources, this five-day game also teaches negotiating skills, forming alliances to come together to solve common problems, the real cost of war and the value of finding other less costly and bloody solutions. 

In the film this award-winning educator and his 4th Grade students at Venable School in Charlottesville participate in an educational exercise he developed called “The World Peace Game,” now offered in 33 countries around the world. The film follows these nine- and ten-year-old students as they assume roles as world leaders responding to an ongoing series of real world military, economic, and environmental crises.

I recommend watching Hunter’s TED talk here:

Other interviews and articles including how children can go through the game or how teachers can take the training to offer it themselves are on his website at

See also an interview with Temple here. John Hunter also spoke this year at Unity Church, Charlottesville in their Jan.14th Sunday service. You can listen to it here



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: