This lesson came back to me last week when Spencer, who is a senior, won the school chess tournament. He named the boys he played and shrugged it off, even though one of the boys is the valedictorian of their class.
I imagined how this really smart boy must have felt to know that my mediocre student could beat him in chess. The problem is that the intelligence to win in chess, or even on the basketball court, are different from the skills needed to succeed in school.
As many of you know, I homeschooled my kids until the oldest was a sophomore in high school and the youngest in 6th grade. They then opted to attend school. Yet none of them seem to have bought into the school system's game. I tell them that having chosen the playing field (the school) they must now play by those rules, which means achieve high grades.
None of them seem motivated to do the little bit of extra work it would take to achieve an A when they can do very little work and get a B. After all those years preaching about the love of learning, I have a hard time enforcing the "A" standard.
Spencer probably struggles the most with grades. If we'd sent him to grade school, he probably would have been diagnosed with ADD. But we didn't, and he has adapted with decent grades.
To me, Spencer will always be that little kid with the round glasses and the blonde bowl haircut sitting on the floor, one knee pulled up to his chest, the other under his bottom staring at the chess board.
He learned to play chess in 1st grade. We were at Borders bookstore and he requested a beginning chess set that came with a book to explain how to move the pieces. I went through the book with him and he started playing with his friends. I began to get an inkling he thought differently than I do when we were leaving a friend's house one day.
"Wrap it up, Spence. Time to go," I called as he stared at the chess board.
"Hold on. Two more moves and I've got him in checkmate," he said.
"What? How can you tell that?" I asked. I figured the number of moves were infintesimal and he couldn't predict what his friend Michael might do. But it was true. He could figure out the available moves and how to trap his opponent. It's what a good chess player does.
Once he started school in 8th grade, he gave up on the private chess lesson, the trips to national chess tournaments. He worked hard to be a normal jock with B grades.
This year, as college forms should be filled out, I told him he needed to add another activity. Back to chess, I told him. And so he did.
Spencer holding the flag is not with the chess club in this photo.
On Tuesdays at lunch, he goes to chess club. And he's succeeding. Which reminds me why school and education and intelligence just don't always go together.
Getting good grades, in my opinion, requires the will to please other people and a good memory. Those skills will make the 4.0 plus student in my kids' high school.
Grace and Tucker both have those steel trap memories like I do, so they have the ability to excel at school, if they only had the other part, that urge to please people.
The problem with not having a good memory, is that school can feel like a beat down everyday. Those other people with good memories just stride through it. Maybe chess will help Spencer remember that there's a light at the end of the school tunnel. Maybe he'll find a career where he can excel because he can see the spatial relationship like those between the pieces on the chess board or between those players on the basketball court.
And maybe someday there will be a school where kids who have a wide variety of intelligences, not just good memories for the things they see or hear, can feel like they're succeeding too.