Last summer I was having Spanish conversation classes round the house of a friend, Toni, who lives in my village. He's got a daughter, only aged about four or five at the moment, and he asked me whether, when the time was right, I'd teach her to play chess. Sure I would, I said.
I remembered that conversation when I was reading Jonathan Calder's piece in the Guardian last week, commending the idea of chess in schools. I've written on that subject before. I'm sceptical, at best, tending to outright hostility at any suggestion of chess becoming compulsory. It won't, of course, but there are people around (not Mr Calder, as far as I can see) who think it should be.
I know about the Armenian scheme, which doesn't particularly impress me. I suspect the educational benefits of chess in schools are largely imaginary, though making every child learn the game might well produce Armenian world champions and Olympiad winners in future years. Which is fine, from the point of view of the greater glory of Armenia, but I don't think education is properly about the greater glory of anything. Even chess.
But also - as I say, somewhere in Mr Calder's comments - assuming you have the time, and other resources, available for the teaching of chess: why chess? Is chess the best we have to offer children? If we are teach them something, something normally extra-curricular, that will encourage their capacity to concentrate and let their creativity flourish?
Why not, say, a musical instrument? From which of these are they more likely to gain pleasure and benefit throughout their lives? Which is the richer, which the deeper?
A world without the game of chess might well be greyer, but is it umimaginable, as (for most of us) the world would be without music? Yes, I know, you can do both: there are people, plenty of people, who have learned both chess and music, and even some rare individuals who have flourished at both. But for most, and for anybody trying to arrange the school day, time is limited, as are options. And I cannot see why we would prioritise chess above music. I can't even see why people who love chess would want that to happen. I certainly see no reason why society at large would want to.
That's what I said to Toni: yeah, sure I'll teach your daughter. No harm in it. But if she were to really take to something, better by far that she should take to music. It's a richer, wider, world by an immeasurable distance. It's as rich, almost, as life itself. But chess is just a board game. Arguably, the greatest one there is. But that is what it is.
My wife's family are here for the week: two kids, both of primary school age, both of whom I have, at one time of another, taught how to play chess. They both play musical instruments, one the violin, one the guitar. (Good choices, I think: perhaps better than mine. I learned the piano, and rather regret that I gave it up as a teenager - but it doesn't have those instruments' portability. But whatever.)
Me, I've spent a good part of my life in chess - that's the way it worked out, and to see that as either good or bad probably misses the point. I'm glad of it, mostly, to be honest. But the children - if they were to spend their lives in music, instead, wouldn't that, in all probability, be a wiser choice?