Monday, April 25, 2011

Creativity and World Peace in Fourth Grade

I teach in the same school district as John Hunter, but I won't pretend to name drop, I have never met him so I can't pretend that we are any sort of colleague aside from shared geography and profession.  A documentary film (created by Charlottesville local, Chris Farina) features Mr. Hunter and a unique learning experience he created.  The film is titled World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements.  I have not had a chance yet to view the film, but Mr. Hunter recently addressed the TED Conference in California and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.  I've embedded the video of his talk below, it is around twenty minutes long, but definitely worth the time.

This film and the creative work of John Hunter continues to draw praise from an increasingly wider audience.  Both the specific content and method of the game and the educational philosophy communicated by Mr. Hunter in his various appearances resonate with a variety of audiences; the public seems to really get him, and understand the value of his approach to education.  I would almost venture to say that most people (myself included) would identify him as an asset to public education and a quality teacher.  One only has to read the myriad comments that abound on the internet to conclude that he has made an impression.

Yet this impression comes without any reference to student performance or outcomes.  Our nation seems willing to judge positively this individual teacher based on the creation and implementation of a single (yet substantial) learning experience, statements about his educational philosophy, and observation of his classroom performance.  How is this not good enough for the rest of us?  In an era where teacher effectiveness is measured by student performance and proposals for teacher merit-pay are based on student achievement, we are willing to label Mr. Hunter an excellent teacher without any such evidence.

I believe I know the answer.  In this case, we meet an individual who interacts daily and pours his life into young minds.  We are not considering a massive pool of public employees expected to do a job.  We get a chance to hear the voice behind the instructional decisions and the intentions and motives that drive them.  We are not listening to a filtered mouth-piece trying to synthesize the diverse minds that collectively educate our young.  And finally, we're introduced to students and care about what type of people they grow into instead of worrying about what kind of data-points they're creating for evaluating teachers or schools.

Ultimately, the public is able to see the wonder of human interaction that can take place when adults who care about the future of our children meaningfully engage with them in individual classrooms across the nation.  Peeking through this window of the open classroom and witnessing real education transpire melts away the false illusion that somehow the quality of this experience can be captured and measured through simplistic mass-produced and mass-scored assessement.  World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements has opened that window.  I hope that the American public will take the opportunity to peek inside and recognize this illusion.

Hear what John Hunter has to say and let us know if you agree. (or don't)


  1. Inspiring.

    Some of his talk reminded me that the 70's were a far greater decade than any since.

    "If Only.."

  2. My only memory of education in the seventies was the teacher's bringing in their own television sets and letting us watch cartoons when we had to use Saturdays for make up days. Of course cartoons had educational value back then.

    Come to think of it, he said it all started in 1977. That was the year I started school so they must have started doing something right.

    I have reflected that the more our class time gets cut and the more standards and accountability are stressed, the more likely I am to cut out some of the authentic experiences in favor of making sure to cover the content. Maybe it's time to stop and just see what the outcome is. At best, students will experience rich learning and test scores won't suffer. At worst, students will experience rich learning.