Chess as An Equalizer
Chess is an inexpensive addition to curriculum that holds promise for a broad range of students to develop their potential, learn to think, and experience success. This is what has prompted one inner-city principal to become a proponent of using chess “as a great equalizer.” Chess teaches students to think critically and to think ahead.
Working as a turnaround principal in three different inner city schools, Salome Thomas-EL has seen his students move on “to attend magnet and private high schools, competitive colleges and graduate and law schools.” His students have come from the most impoverished areas of Wilmington, DE and Philadelphia to compete in and win local, state, and national chess championships.
Thomas-EL says playing chess requires the use of memory, logic, and reason and encourages students to consider rewards while seeing the consequences of their decisions. Students as young as five years old can learn the game quickly. Using a few chess pieces or all of them, they learn to anticipate moves, think ahead, and solve multi-step problems, as well as how to make abstract decisions.
Believing that traditional U.S. curriculum does not allow students to learn and teach themselves in the early grades, Thomas-EL states that chess allows students to think on their own, without the assistance of adults. He laments the focus on test scores to the detriment of learning to embrace and overcome challenges.
Thomas-EL, who has been an educator for 25 years, believes in innovative and creative approaches to education, and in having high expectations for students. Chess could be a cheap fix for schools where teaching to the test has resulted in students who never truly learn to think. Education Week, 9-26-2012