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Chess for Peace?

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A curious editorial in the UK Sunday Times about chess for kids in Scotland. It's a little confusing because it blends in coverage of another initiative for teaching Scottish history. The general idea seems to be that chess will decrease violence. There's more:

Anyhow, whatever sacrificing a pawn does to the heartbeat, it is claimed that since a chess development programme was introduced into seven primary schools in an Aberdeen housing scheme in 2001, school attendance has risen, literacy and numeracy have been enhanced and classroom behaviour has improved. Whole families have become involved as they rediscover the joys of adult-child rivalry. Peter Hamilton, the councilís community learning and development manager, even claims that introducing the game has resulted in more "active citizenship", although he does not say quite how.

Chess: cure for all of society's ills. Who knew?


The editorial is interesting reading. I doubt chess alone is fully responsible for the improvements though. They probably have also implemented other initiatives not mentioned in the report.

Still if chess and the related attention from the adults improves a child's behaviour, why not take the "chess for peace" idea further? We could lock leaders of disputing nations in a room and not unlock the door until they had resolved their differences over the chessboard.

Hmmm, on second thought, let's not unlock the door at all. :-)

Or we could look at the how much chess has brought peace and understanding to the world of chess (f.x. unification, tournaments in Libya etc.), and conclude that chess in itself probably is not the most important factor...

My soap-box position has been and continues to be: Chess is like a box of ... no; wait; that's not it. Oh, yeah: Chess is Not a panacea in a person's learning to be a problem solver (rather than a passive recipient of circumstances, a rubber ducky on the ocean of life)... but it (chess) can make a huge contribution in that direction. So I ain't shocked and amazed by all this Scotland stuff. Regards the second post: Don't be tempted to confuse the politicization of chess with the game itself!

I've always been a bit skeptical of the "chess makes you smart" claims floating around the American scholastic scene, and this seems to be a variation on that theme. It is fairly well accepted that outside interests and hobbies have a positive influence on children's grades, development, whatever, but I've never been convinced that chess is any better or any worse in this regard than piano lessons and Little League.

I share John's skepticism. When I worked with teens (13-16) in trouble with the law, I'd often spend part of the evenings playing and teaching chess. We had much less disciplinary problems with these teens, and they did better in the custody school system. However, I noticed a similar trend when we lifted weights together, when we played pool together, and even when we just worked in the kitchen together while talking about anything and everything.

These activities themselves weren't making the teens smarter, they were just responding to having someone give them some positive attention and support for perhaps the first time in their lives.

No, no, you guys are missing the point! Chess *doesn't* make you smarter because in the first place 'smartness' is not a simple numerical value like temperature or points in a basketball game. So let's dispense with this and get more specific. My claim is that chess teaches you aspects of problem-solving that you can internalize and use elsewhere. Chess teaches you that you can solve problems. If you want to talk about the benefits of spending time with at-risk kids, you're absolutely right that it's the focused attention that is important, not the particular activity.

Hmm, I see your point Rob. It does raise the chicken-egg scenario though. What came first...a proclivity towards problem-solving followed by involvement with chess, or taking up chess and learning aspects of problem-solving? Based on similar debates, my guess is that one can enhance the other regardless of which came first.

And, in children, how do you determine if it is chess playing that leads to better problem-solving in life, and not just maturation? I'd imagine those two variables would be difficult to separate in adults too.

With a large enough sample size of chess players vs non-chess players at the same age, social status etc, you could determine some effects...but have there been any studies with sufficient sample size (power) to do this?

Anyway, just my idle questions. If I feel motivated enough and have time I'll check the university's on-line journals, and post a quick note if I find anything of interest.

Right; well sometimes kids find themselves going to chess club for other reasons (friends going, parents encouraging, curiosity, postponing doing their homework...) As for demonstrable efficacy, please do mention if you find anything. I have nothing to cite beyond personal experience; perhaps my thesis is a chimera.

I have developed a Chess&Literacy program which uses chess to teach the literacy skills of reading, writing, calculating, problem solving, pattern recognition reasoning...etc. I have developed a number of brain-training devices to force your brain to use as many centers of neural activity as it has available to solve certain problems. I teach in elementary schools in the Boston area. I teach in public schools. Most of the kids I teach you would classify as "regular people" not Einsteins and not dummies. I have challenged my students to think through a problem. Usually kid's don't like to think through problems. It is my job to get the kid to enjoy thinking through problems to find adequate solutions.

Chess is a good foundation, a creative format from which to launch a program to get kids to open their eyes and their minds to the world around them. I also include history and geography when I am teaching my program. You know the former World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov was born in Baku. Do you know where Baku is? What country is Baku the capital of? What region of the world are we talking about? Do you know that during the reign of Joseph Stalin, Baku played a prominent role in the development of the USSR? It was rich in natural resources. Do you know that Joseph Stalin was born in Georgia and not Atlanta, Georgia? Where is this "other" Georgia located? And so forth and so on. This way kids get to learn stuff they might not have learned just hanging out on the corner after school.

Of course, my Chess&Literacy program is good for adults too. I have had professionals in the field of medicine and engineering tell me that my program improved their performance on the job.

That might tell us something: that we normally don't use most of our brain. But we knew this. My interest is in how I can get all of us to use more of our brain and integrate the various specialized regions of the brain to network to find the solutions to difficult visual and calculation problems. Network development. It sounds like a business plan to increase profits. Well, in a way it is. Network development of our brain will increase idea output. I have experienced this phenomenon first hand!

At any case, chess makes you smart. The standard achievement tests suggest this in a significant way. Tests were given in New York, Texas and California. So many test results cannot be wrong or a fluke! Also, children who have excelled in chess are also known to be good students in college as well.

So overall, engaging in chess as an intellectual activity as well as a sport, is good for all of us all the way around.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on January 17, 2005 1:40 PM.

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