"Teach them math, science and chess," proclaimed a headline in Saturday's New York Times. Just days before, The Washington Post ran a story about a Chess grandmaster urging young school kids in Washington, DC to take up the game. in both pieces, chess gets props for teaching "discipline, analytical thinking, time management, focus and patience." The Times article comes close to promoting chess as part of the curriculum for every kid in K-12.
But it's not chess itself that should capture the attention of school reformers. It's what chess stands for: Long attention, perseverance, focus. Paul Tough recently called it "grit ."
Grit is a critical element of success in school and life, and it can be fostered through any number of strategies. Opus 118 , the Harlem youth orchestra Merryl Streep immortalized in Music of the Heart , is famous for the determination it teaches its young, mostly low income participants. So is the West Philadelphia Automotive Academy , where urban teens built an award-winning high-performance hybrid car.
In fact, programs like these combine inspiration and grit, catching students' interest and then giving them the stamina they need to succeed. That's a lesson that bears repeating.