Modern Perspectives on Chess & Education
Following up on Saturday’s blog article with the same title, I continue with three distinct perspectives on Chess and Education. All from the past week or two…
Perspective I: The Alabama Initiative
Not your typical ‘Chess in Schools’ program
In January of this year a report was released by independent researchers at Tennessee Tech University and the University of Alabama entitled “Teaching with Chess: Exploring the Relationship between Chess and Student Learning Outcomes”.
This report described some of the findings after 3 years of a 5 year study in a few Alabama schools. (You can download the study HERE. It is not very long nor difficult to read.) Essentially, about 800 students were exposed to chess while a control group of about 400 students were not.
What is original about this Alabama initiative is that it is not so much about teaching students to play chess per se as it is about transfering to the students the executive and critical thinking skills often associated with chess thinking through thoughtfully designed academic classes.
This methodology is not commonly seen in schools where chess is introduced. For instance, in teaching math, the use of the geometry of the chess board is employed, as well as is applying the specific language and spatial thinking skills derived from core chess thinking.
Curiously, there is deliberately very little real chess instruction in the cirriculum. Perhaps only between 1 and 2 hours a week.
Mike Klein, of Chess.Com notoriety, last week wrote a short blurb on the report inappropriately entitled ‘Research Finds Chess More Beneficial In Lower Grades’ where it is evident he did not understand the methodology employed in these Alabama schools.
“While it is tempting to equate this study to the general benefits of teaching chess, the ACIS study is about a particular approach to teaching chess in the classroom.
That is, it is education-driven. It is about chess for education, not education for chess.
A big part of our teacher training is about using chess in the teaching of the curricula of the educational institution. For example, the chessboard is more than a game battlefield, it is a vehicle for teaching graphing skills, coordinates, geometry, as well as certain language skills, and spatial thinking.
Chess becomes a jumping off point for digressions into teaching subject matter that is at the heart of education (and the metrics by which educators are measured).”
While the study is not yet finished, the findings generally indicate what other studies about chess in schools have also found. Namely, that critical thinking skills of those students exposed to chess are somewhat superior to those in the control group.
Furthermore, this report emphasizes that both the teachers and the students perceived the entire experience these past 3 years very positively. It is not clear if there was an attempt to also get parental input, but of course the study is not yet over.
Before I leave this, I would like to point out that this particular Alabama approach has no real need of the kind of chess teacher commonly seen in other programs where a skilled player or accredited chess teacher would come in and demonstrate his or her stuff.
The teachers in the Alabama program were just the normal teachers, many of whom had very little if any real chess experience.
They received some guided training on how the pieces move and other basics. (Chess.Com has lots of free material available, for example.) These teachers’ expertise was in knowing how to teach, and they developed an academic approach that employed chess-inspired methodology.
Perspective 2: The Armenia Experiment
In 2011 Armenia made the teaching of chess compulsory in school. The only country to do so in the world. The decision was widely praised by journalists and chess experts everywhere.
The President of the Republic at the time,Serzh Sargsyan, was a big chess fan (and also President of the Armenian Chess Federation) and he saw an opportunity to not just promote the game amongst Armenia’s children but also to take advantage of chess’ natural educational attributes.
Grandmaster Smbat Lputian fully agreed and has added “bringing chess into schools is the best way to build the future”.
Fast forward to 2019, however, not every one is happy, and after the 7 years experience there is a growing movement–mostly lead by parents— to remove chess as a compulsory subject in Armenian schools.
There is a new President of the Republic today and possibly the winds of change have provided an opportunity in Armenia for the nay sayers to turn back the clock.
The Ministry of Education and Science is currently discussing changing chess’ status from compulsory to optional.
Since it’s introduction in 2011, many parents have complained of the extra work load for their children as well as arguing that children should not be forced to play games.
Many now believe that a more natural approach should be taken, one where if the child demonstrates a real passion or potential for chess then they should have the option to go to special schools voluntarily.
I suggest the reader take a look at the article linked to above to find out additional information.
A decision by the Ministry is expected before the summer ends, but it is not clear what that decision will be. Should it be decided to make chess lessons a voluntary decision by each student, then it will be seen in the rest of the chess world as a real setback for those working towards having chess included in schools in many other countries.
In some countries this might be the final nail in the coffin with regards to such initiatives.
Perspective 3: Should Schools Want Chess?
“Chess is Inherently Revolutionary”
American blogger Michael Bacon sent to me the following insightful post that can be found on the USCF-Forum following a discussion on chess in schools.
According to Bacon, Thomas Magar is the resident philosopher on the forum.
I take the liberty to reproduce the entire post, as it is short and to the point. Essentially, Magar argues that public education should never want to produce critical thinkers…Enjoy!
“Contrary to popular misconceptions that are promoted by a segment of the media, the public schools are not centers of liberalism or even “critical thinking.”
The foci of the schools are on keeping order, conformity, promoting conservative ideologies, and avoiding controversy. The content of history and civic education is scrutinized by political bodies and book publishers to make sure that the students are not given full information about the development of our country and its institutions.
Textbooks are heavily biased to minimize controversial issues. History is scrubbed of discussion of countervailing forces. Efforts to enhance critical thinking are looked at carefully to make sure that the established order on the local, as well as the national level is not upset.
More than a few alleged educators have been against teaching chess in the schools because it would make the kids more judgmental and resistant to authority. Having an educated society, according to Thomas Jefferson, was important to the health of the political system. Unfortunately, those who are in charge of education today do not believe in creating a society that is socially aware, active, and participatory.
Teaching chess to students in the schools can upset the social order.
Children who learn chess also learn to question their elders about all sorts of things, to prove the truth of what they are being told. Chess enhances curiosity, a dangerous trait that can lead to thinking and judgment of values. Chess leads the kids to not accept rote learning as the only method of education. Chess leads to more and deeper exploration of topics as well as soaring away on creative tangents at times. Chess leads to pattern recognition, the use of precedent materials, and comparison of ideas.
Chess is inherently revolutionary as it seeks to discover new paths of thinking which may be outside the box of normal assumptions.
Chess can lead to an undermining of the prevailing value system, and is therefore suspect as a process of educating young minds. Once children learn to think for themselves, it is very difficult to make them conform or accept the surrounding political ethos without question.
A society that values critical thinking is more difficult to persuade with propaganda, biased textbooks, or social media. The fact that chess is also fun also makes it suspicious as real learning is supposed to be difficult and really only for the few.
The democratic, leveling nature of the game which places no barriers to play is a challenge to a society that is increasingly divided by wealth, political ideology, ethnicity, religion, and purported nationalism.
When kids learn chess in the schools, they learn that no obstacle is too big to be overcome, that no lie may remain unchallenged. In the end, they find that winning and losing are only temporary phenomena that lead them to strive for higher quality in all things.
That is dangerous for those who wish to maintain the status quo. So, if chess is enhancing critical thinking skills, be forewarned.” –Thomas Magar (14.2.2019)