The Kids who would be Kings
by Billie Stanton on Apr. 09, 2008
Tucsonan’s goal: Make children better thinkers through chess
Known as “the King’s Game” since 1616, chess now will be the domain of Tucson princesses, princes and paupers, too.
Free chess lessons will infuse Title 1 schools in the Tucson area with the game’s proven ability to rev up cognitive development and IQ levels along with good manners and social skills.
Just as local public education appears to be foundering, Tucson native Jean Hoffman has brought home a plan to help reverse that trend, especially in schools receiving Title 1 funds for serving many kids of low-income families.
With partner Jennifer Shahade, a grandmaster, two-time women’s American chess champion and author of “Chess Bitch,” and a grant from the local Voices for Education, Hoffman is launching the nonprofit 9 Queens.
While the king is deemed the most important piece on the chessboard, the queen is the fastest and most powerful, she says.
In a perfect game, the best player would acquire nine queens. Thus the name.
Hoffman hopes to snuff out the stereotype that chess is a rich man’s game by introducing the strategic activity to girls and boys from low-income families throughout the Tucson area.
9 Queens will pay chess teachers to provide the lessons, as Hoffman is doing already at Roskruge Bilingual School.
Chess “teaches long-term planning and realizing the consequences of your actions, and those are skills every young person can use,” says Robin Hiller, executive director of Voices for Education.
The universal game also transcends language barriers and is a staple in many Hispanic cultures, so 9 Queens is a great fit for Tucson’s multicultural metro area.
Hoffman, a graduate of St. Gregory College Preparatory School, has a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a master’s in teacher education from Harvard. She spent three years teaching chess and directing tournaments for the Chess-in-the-Schools program based in New York City.
She came home for a visit that, luckily for us, has morphed into a permanent return.
“Tucson has a rich tradition of chess,” Hoffman says. “Unfortunately, it’s very concentrated with schools that have resources or parents with resources . . .”
Not for long. 9 Queens will be spreading chess into low-income neighborhoods, operating out of an inner-city home with rent subsidized by retired University of Arizona professor Carl Tomizuka and women’s advocate and author Sheila Tobias.
“If we can get girls to take chess seriously,” Tobias says, “it might help them take themselves seriously.”
In a 1750 essay, The Morals of Chess, Benjamin Franklin noted that the game “is not merely an idle amusement,” but rather a mirror of life, with points to gain, competitors and adversaries to contend with and “good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it.”
He credited chess with, among other things, teaching foresight, consideration of consequences, circumspection and caution.
For today’s children, who lose far too many precious hours to video games, television and other shallow entertainment, chess seems a veritable palliative.
The work of 9 Queens can offset the effects of modern ills among Tucson’s children while imbuing them with excellent behavioral and personality characteristics, as well as improved thinking and academic success.
Local schools need only open their schedules and classrooms to this enterprise; 9 Queens will do the rest.
Hoffman believes the program will find success in the Old Pueblo. “I do think this is a very good community for innovation and trying things out,” she says.
And Tucson can applaud the return of Hoffman – one of those young, talented professionals whom our city longs to attract – as a real coup.
Welcome home, Jean Hoffman, and thanks for devising a new way to provide all Tucson children with the tools they need for success in life.
Billie Stanton may be reached at email@example.com and 573-4664.