I can't have been entirely alone in shouting "no" as soon as the question was put, nor even in making a seasonal invocation of Our Lord immediately beforehand, an invocation I nearly repeated when the world's leading chess columnist was invited to favour us with his opinion. To his credit, Ray did stop short of approving the suggestion of making chess compulsory, though he did say that
if a child is good at six, they could be a grandmaster by the time they are twelvewhich I'll file under "things Ray says that while highly misleading are not quite untrue", since so far in history it has happened precisely once.
Malcolm Pein, conversely, is apparently
a big supporter of chess being made compulsory at schoolalthough as it happens the story doesn't quite seem to back up that claim, continuing
and recently made a submission to the government's National Curriculum review. It recommended that one class of chess - "or other thinking games like bingo" - is made mandatory every week for children in Year 2 (aged six) or 3 (aged seven).Personally, I don't think I've played bingo since I was about that age, but I digress. I hope Malcolm doesn't seriously want to make chess compulsory in schools, since it would put him in the position of being the least sensible person in a group including Ray Keene and Chris Woodhead.
Well, Melanie Phillips likes him
Not that the question is any more than academic. Chess compulsory in schools? "And monkeys might fly out of my butt", as a noted American cultural commentator once put it, and indeed this story seems to have emerged from somewhere dark and obscure, since despite the present Government's liking for ridiculous ideas in education, I will obtain the Grandmaster title before any such thing occurs. And a good thing too.
Apart from the practical impossibility of the idea - where are all these chess teachers going to come from? - it baffles me that some people who love the game of chess manage to persuade themselves that the way to make the public love it, too, is to make them play it. I entertain similar thoughts about compulsory sport in schools: being somebody who loves football, I fail to see the value of giving people a lifelong hatred of the sport by forcing it on them as children. But at least they know what football is.
Some people like both
As it's not going to happen, it's probably not worth the time it would take to expound in depth what a bad idea this is - please feel free to use the comments box should you wish to do so, or for that matter to dissent. (I shall be working in a school all day, so my response may be somewhat tardy in arriving.) What struck me as odd about the story - apart from its implicit implausibility - was that while a decently-researched and written piece, it was yet another BBC story about chess without any actual chess in it.
It's as if they were to write about football - about football in culture, about football in schools, about interesting and amusing things that had happened in football - without ever mentioning the football results or having any match reports. The BBC - online at any rate - doesn't report the national championship or the national league, barely reports the world chess championship and to my knowledge hasn't reported on a single game played between two human players, in the UK, for a number of years.
Which is its privilege. There are other priorities. But it does mean that among the reasons why it would be absurd to make chess compulsory in schools, might be this: that when they see it on the timetable, the kids may well say "Chess? What's that?"
[Woodhead image: EducationNews]
[Aronian image: Chessbase]
[Ray Keene index]