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dice, the finest trained intellectual I ever met was taught in Texas. She arrived at Emory University having already placed out of her entire freshman year, a clear slate of “5’s”, the highest score possible on all the available Advanced Placement tests. In her freshman year, she aced organic chem- istry, the notorious pre-med weed-out course, got a 100 average in differential equations, and received the top grade in the sophomore level English survey class. Thankfully, the second through fifth

volumes refer only to national standards, a sensible change that goes a long way to improving the volumes’ usefulness. Still, these books read like the dry textbooks one is forced to read in graduate school for education, and at times one is left with the impression that Dr. Root has simply repackaged her Ph.D. dissertation as a how-to book for educators. Is Csikszent- mihalyi’s theory of flow really necessary here? Bodily kinesthetic intelligence, Dr. Root explains, is why kids make little sculptures out of the pieces. And here I thought it was that scene from “Search- ing for Bobby Fischer!” But how is it at teaching chess? One personal pet peeve comes from

one of the earlier volumes, Science, Math, Checkmate. Now, chances are you are well familiar with this position:


pz pzp-+-+- -+-+-+-+

Pz PzP-+-+- -+-+-+-+ +-+-+-+- -+-+-+-+ +-+-+-+K

White to play and win If one wished, one could turn this

example into a lesson on surface tension of water for a science class, a free wheel- ing discussion of yin and yang in social studies, even a high level mathematics lesson about how sometimes 2 is greater than 3. To Root, it is the “3 on 3 pawn problem” and used to introduce the sci- entific method of measurement, observation, and formulation of a proce- dure (page 21-22). The solution is 1. b6. But to most of us, its the Russian

schoolboy problem. You teach this by simply telling the story of the apocryphal Russian grandmaster who, on visiting the U.S., is presented this position by some American experts. His famously dismissive snort, “every Russian school- boy knows this problem” is how the position got its name. For a class of third graders, this is all

the motivation they need to tackle the prob- lem in pairs with gusto, humming the theme of Rocky IV as they do so. We are just as smart as those Russian schoolboys! The latest volume, The Living Chess

Game: Fine Arts Activities for Kids 9-14, lays out an 11-hour lesson culminating in a liv- ing chess game. While to the lay person, 11 hours seems quick, in reality assum- ing an hour class once a week, even without a vacation/fire drill/head lice inspection, this is a three-month endeavor. Your end result is of course spectacu-

lar, a presentation that your principal and parents will love, but are the kids going to be any good at chess? Imagine crosstown, a school without

the resources for the Broadway produc- tion Root imagines, a teacher with a few ancient Milton Bradley plastic sets and cardboard boards, and if she’s lucky an old copy of Reinfeld’s Chess For Ama- teurs. After their 11 weeks of actually studying the game of chess, my money is on this team cleaning the clocks of their thespian rivals. I call it the “Wii-fication” of teaching.

Everything nowadays has to light up, do a dance, talk to you and sparkle to sup- posedly interest today’s child. The truth is, however, that chess is an internal game, its beauty is what happens inside the child, the power of imagination. Sure, a Lego Star Wars chess set is going

to delight your six-year-old. But how much is this just staging light saber wars between Princess Leia and Chewbacca, and how much is learning the Ruy Lopez? I’m not above using chess notation to

teach a lesson in coordinate geometry. I once gave a whole lesson in medieval architecture to explain why we shouldn’t call a rook a castle. Should you mention Hannibal and elephants in your intro- duction of the knight? Absolutely. But this should be a sprinkling of spice, not the main course. But in a world of nervous principals,

terrified that a superintendent might pass by a classroom where the kids are (gasp) playing a game, chess instruction today has to be a cultural exploration of the firz and the baidaq, a reading of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and its chess inspired passages, followed by a dance choreography denoting a pawn capturing rook—all actual examples from this series. Somewhere Capablanca, who learned

the game from reading a book of 1,001 pawn endgames, is rolling around his grave; his legacy reduced simply to his Cuban heritage, his sparkling play replaced by a politically correct exploration of pre- Castro American Caribbean politics. Of course Dr. Root is not the cause of

this phenomenon. A major chess instruc- tional organization insists that its 10-week program for third graders is the industry

Other Teaching/Curriculum Texts

From the Kasparov Chess Foundation: Teaching Chess - Step By Step - Teachers Manual - Book #1

Teaching Chess - Step By Step - Exercises - Book #2

Teaching Chess - Step By Step - Activities - Book #3

From Chess Life for Kids columnist Todd Bardwick:

Teaching Chess in the 21st Century

standard. Unfortunately, the kids don’t learn what checkmate is until week nine. My favorite pastime at their tournaments is to go watch the novice division towards the end of rounds. There is nothing fun- nier than a gaggle of tournament directors huddled around a game where the two contestants are inventing a way to win a game without either of them having a king! There is no denying that if you deal a lot

with educational bureaucracies, this series is extremely useful, and as far as I know, completely unique. Dr. Root does admit that while doing her living chess game, she also did a traditional 40 minute chess lecture before working on the play, but these lessons aren’t presented. Part of the problem is that Root has too many masters; the theatre people don’t need to be told how to do a script for a play, and the chess people don’t need help with the chess. In general I think it is effective to bend

a chess lesson to the subject classroom you are visiting. The balance though is crucial, it should be more in the nature of a tease. Sprinkle a little of Dr. Root’s spice into your traditional chess lesson, and that’s a tasty stew indeed.

. By Alexey W. Root

The Living Chess Game: Fine Arts Activities for Kids 9-14 2010, Libraries Unlimited, 140 pp., $29.95 from (catalog number B0045OB)

Children and Chess: A Guide For Educators, 2006, Teachers Chess, 136 pp., $24.95 from (catalog number B0020OB)

Read, Write, Checkmate: Enrich Literacy with Chess Activities 2009, Teachers Chess, 128 pp., $24.95 from (catalog number B0022OB)

People, Places, Checkmates: Teaching Social Studies with Chess 2010, Teachers Chess, 146 pp., $24.95 from (catalog number B0035OB)

Science, Math, Checkmate: 32 Chess Activities for Inquiry and Problem Solving 2008, Teachers Chess, 144 pp., $24.95 from (catalog number B0021OB)

Chess Life — August 2011


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