Chess At DAA; It’s Not What You Learn But How Long You Learn It (Part 1)

“When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient.” -Robert Greene, Mastery.

The Science of Chess

If we look at the massive amount of research into the benefits of chess we find that:

Chess has been proven to improve IQ, create more neurological connections in the problem solving areas of the brain, increases computational thinking, and can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.   It’s also very important to note that these beneficial effects get stronger the longer one sticks with chess.

A recent study by The Educational Endowment Fund (EEF), however, showed no grade improvement in children who learned chess.

As an educator, therapist, social worker, and chess player I just knew there had to be a mistake!  So I took a closer look and what I found both helps to explain why the study showed no grade improvement and why our whole view of quick fix educational interventions need to be completely overturned.

The Magic Bullet

“In the future, the great division will be between those who have trained themselves to handle these complexities and those who are overwhelmed by them -- those who can acquire skills and discipline their minds and those who are irrevocably distracted by all the media around them and can never focus enough to learn.” -Robert Greene, Mastery.

We want an educational panacea. Some activity or practice or intervention that will, in one fell swoop, solve both the achievement gap within the United States and the gap between the performance of students in the U.S. when compared with the rest of the world. The idea that chess might be that miracle cure has continued to gain traction.

And they are wrong. Chess, or any other activity, will never solve the educational gap because it’s not studying chess that will stimulate intelligence but truly how you study chess.   

The Path to Mastery

In his book, Mastery, Robert Greene lists five steps on the path to mastery.  Greene links the path to mastery as, “a form of power and intelligence that represents the high point of human potential.” Sounds perfect for our educational needs right?!  

Let’s look at the five steps:

1.  Discover Your Calling; noticing your “primal attraction to some activity or form of learning.”

2.  Apprentice With Intensity; spend a lot of focused time on the activity

3.  Gain Social Intelligence; learn the ways of the world

4.  Awaken Creative Energy; allow yourself time to become creative

5.  Develop High Level Intuition; allow time to integrate all you’ve learned

I’ve included a number of quotes from Robert Greene’s book in this post because of how much I think the ideas contained within his book speak to our desire to find ways to unlock the keys to intelligence in our students and ourselves.  I believe that we are completely missing step number two in our desire to find quick fixes.   If dedicating a lot of time to an art form of learning is the key to powerful intelligence then any quick fix to the achievement gap should be immediately seen as actually counterproductive and totally superficial!