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Published on March 24th, 2017 | by Griffin James

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Chess should be taught in math curriculum

One of the desired outcomes of the K-12 education system is to instill a strong sense of critical thinking (the ability to find solutions efficiently) within each student. Traditionally, curriculums have been manufactured to cultivate problem-solving through the route of mathematics. Algebra, Geometry, Calculus and Statistics are all fundamental components of the school day for every child in America. But why is this the case? Well, to answer the question of many a crying student with his/her facedown in a mountain of math homework, these courses are mandated for many reasons. On the technical level, math is taught to establish familiarity and mastery with basic numerical aspects of society (How to calculate a tip, recognize a 90 degree angle, etc). And while being able to correctly ration enough surface area for a new rug in the living room is a valuable skill to have, math does much more in the shaping of a proficient mind. Through the use of variables, varying degrees of difficulty and application questions, mathematics do a great job of grooming a student into someone who can think fast and persevere to find a solution. But sadly, at times, the truth behind all those X’s and Y’s is hard to recognize, for the development of critical thinking skills have been presented in a way that many find unappealing. Today, a student who struggles in their math courses is ushered through a tornado of unfathomable equations and calculations until they are sent on their way into the realm of life after high school with a crippled capacity to problem solve. Now, I’m not calling for the radicalization of the school system, but an alternative solution to aid those who struggle up the mathematical ladder may have been in black and white all along.

To many, mentioning chess conjures up images of old men sitting at tables in the park or a crazed genius locked in a room feverishly playing with himself. In fact, the game of chess connotes many stereotypes that get in the way of the game itself. The strategy game has been around since the 6th century, but in the modern education system, its use hasn’t expanded beyond after-school-programs and competitive travel teams.

This is rather disappointing, for the value of chess is being overlooked when it comes to mandated education. Schools are willing to invest resources into fueling multiple math curriculums, but have they ever thought about utilizing chess as well? They haven’t, for if they did, educators all over the country would realize that the game has the potential to bestow two unique skills upon the student: adaptation and competition.

As was aforementioned, one of the education system’s biggest goals is to instill a strong sense of critical thinking in every child, and traditionally, this has been done through math. Traditional courses such as Algebra are crucial to the learning process, but they also pigeonhole a student into a singular way of thinking. Chess introduces an added layer of fortitude to the problem-solving trait, and should have a unit dedicated to the it in every 9th grade math course. In most math classes, a student learns how apply equations and properties in order to solve a problem. The same goes for chess, the player creates a plan of attack using known rules as guidance. The two mediums become disparate once the player/student begins on the match/problem. A math problem, no matter how complicated, is ultimately simple. The question doesn’t change, and while there may be many ways to reach it, there is usually one answer. Chess, on the other hand, has thousands of outcomes due to the fact that there is another player involved who is constantly changing the conditions of the match. It is here where a problem-solver learns the most important component of critical thinking: adaption. Whereas when solving a math problem one can follow a series of mapped out equations to an answer. Chess forces the player to strategize on the fly, changing the gameplan to compensate to the factor of unpredictability which is a living opponent. If this kind of environment was implemented into a freshman curriculum, the result would be similar to when a baseball player swings a weighted bat. The students would immerse themselves in the complexities of chess, learning combinations and how to counter an opponent. Then, when they sit down at their desks and a test is put in front of them, they will be over-prepared for the comparatively simple questions on the page. It is through alternative avenues such as chess where a student can become more comfortable with traditional problems, and harness the critical thinking skills to adapt in order to overcome a challenge.

Even so, thousands consider themselves “quick thinkers,” but in today’s world no one can stand on brain power alone, for it takes competitive spirit to go out into the bustling streets and find success. Traditionally, competition has been frowned upon in the classroom setting, yet still alluded to. There is no hiding the fact that college applications, standardized test scores, and extracurriculars all require the participant to match up with their peers, so why continue to label competition as taboo? In reality, it is just another ingredient in the makeup of the problem-solver, and is one of the, if not the most essential characteristics one must possess in life. To be competitive is the final element in the grand creation that is adept problem-solving, and every piece of the puzzle can be found through chess, but still, it is overlooked by traditional education.
As a nation, the United States should at least explore implementation of alternative learning methods if educators wish to see quantifiable improvement in students. Mathematics, English, history and the sciences all contribute to the makings of a strong student, but maybe chess is the secret ingredient needed in order to produce kings and queens, not pawns.

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