28 May, 2008
This Learning Life 2- University of Bristol 19-21 June 2008
This Learning Life 2 Conference, held in Bristol UK, is for everyone who wishes education to provide all young people with a more powerful preparation for life in the 21st century.
The presumption is that current 'schooling' often develops a rather arcane and anachronistic set of learning skills and attitudes; and if education is in part a preparation for lifelong learning, richer models of learning might prove fruitful.
Jonathan Rowson is presenting a paper titled: Belonging to a Community that Loves to Think: Chess, Intellectual Character, and Social Capital and has kindly sent us the abstract of his presentation.
For those who know chess from the inside, there is little doubt that the game helps you educationally, but we seem to lack a compelling theory to explain why what is learned from chess might be transferable to other domains, and consequently we struggle to convince policy makers that chess might have an important role to play in improving formal education.
The conventional arguments are principally cognitive and largely intuitive, for instance chess improves your capacity to make informed decisions, shows you the rewards of planning ahead and reveals the importance of thinking about the opponent's intentions. While this may all be true, it fails to capture the uniqueness of chess (perceived difficulty, perpetual decision-making, absence of luck, responsibility, benign competitive context, established etiquette, clear rules etc)and the exclusively cognitive emphasis reinforces the stereotype of chess as something abstract and antisocial.
In my own experience, from learning the game as a five year old, to taking time off school to compete in competitions, to becoming British Champion in three consecutive years, the biggest benefit of chess has been the impact it has had on my attitude to thinking and learning, formed partly through the demands of the game, but also through diverse experiences of people, clubs, tournaments and travel opportunities that I would not otherwise have been exposed to.
This paper will examine chess from the perspective of what Harvard Educationalist Ron Ritchart calls Intellectual Character. The educational value of chess, I argue, is not that it gives you skills that may or may not transfer, or abilities that one may have to a greater or lesser degree, but that it helps to create and sustain intellectual character. Chess has to potential to slowly transform one's attitude, understanding and approach to one's own intellect, and thereby foster deep enduring dispositions about learning and thinking that can gradually become part of one's character. For instance, in my experience chess players, for all their faults and idiosyncrasies, are typically highly curious, enjoy working things out, reflexively think of perspectives other than their own, and deeply value the experience of concentration.
This kind of intellectual character is by no means exclusive to chess players, and can develop in various supportive and challenging contexts. However, I will argue that chess is a good example of how subcultures for tacit and informal learning are created, and will build on existing research on chess as a tool for building social capital (positive networks beyond the family and school) in deprived communities (Chess Development in Aberdeen Primary Schools: A Study of Literacy and Social Capital, A Scottish Executive Education Department Sponsored Research Project,Forest
et al, 2005).
The overarching aim of the paper is to use chess as an example of real-life learning that illuminates the relevance of intellectual character and social capital and highlights the importance of their relationship. I hope my paper will thereby help to illustrate the theme of the conference and not only show that many of our most formative learning experiences take place outside of the classroom, but use my experience with chess to explain why.