I recently reread an article in NPR Ed - Where Learning Happens entitled Chess For Progress. How a Grandmaster is Using the Game To Teach Life Skills. Reading this article made me think about the beauty of chess -- a game that is relatively easy to learn, but very difficult to play well...in short, a perfect game for gifted learners. However, I expected the article to be about the game of chess, not the game of life.
As the story unfolds, the author, Maquita Peters, describes Maurice Ashley, the first African-American and Jamaican-born grandmaster in chess, who was invited to teach a chess course at the City College of New York. This course was specifically designed for education majors. The title was “Thinking Chess,” and it was offered for free. Apparently from the start, Ashley made it clear that “credits would be hard-earned, and in order to pass the class, among other criteria, students had to (1) attempt to checkmate him in a limited number of moves and (2) write a paper on how they planned to apply the tactics and strategies of chess to their respective chosen professions and, ultimately, their lives.”
The author of the article fully expected that the class would be easy (And free! How nice!). She never expected to find the course one of her finest education courses, and to find that playing chess well is a lot like playing life well. In her words, "My most profound lesson from learning the strategies and tactics of chess is the cognizance of the consequence of my actions. ... I learned that similar to finding every possible convergent square on the chessboard, to think through all available options I have when faced with a problem or decision and to consider what may be the result of my actions."
Ashley himself described his goal for his students like this, "The absolute most important skill that you learn when you play chess is how to make good decisions. On every single move you have to analyze a situation, process what your opponent is doing and evaluate the best move from amongst all your options."
In my many years of teaching gifted children and interacting with gifted adults, I have found that fast processing sometimes short-circuits the careful, thoughtful, insightful, and sometimes tedious process of decision-making. Our best decisions are sometimes made when, like a good stew, they are allowed to simmer. Chess teaches that -- thoughtful, careful, planful, predictive, slooooow processing.
So, in thinking about chess and life, my questions to you include:
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think