I just saw the movie "42" today. Jackie Robinson's life story is inspirational because of his personal courage and integrity but it is also depressing because it reveals the depths of ignorance, prejudice and hatred that were a common part of public life not too long ago and that still simmer just beneath the surface. What is the cure for the evil that seems to be such an essential part of human nature?
Education is the best hope for humanity's survival--and chess can be an essential part of that educational process. Former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov recently met Ugandan junior chess champion Phiona Mutesi at the "Women in the World Summit." Mutesi told Kasparov that he is an inspiration but Kasparov correctly noted that Mutesi's story is not only inspirational but sends a powerful message about how we can transform the world by using chess as an educational catalyst.
Kasparov expanded upon that theme in an article titled How Chess Saves Lives. Kasparov's wise words should be read in their entirety but here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:
Phiona came from the slums of Katwe in the Ugandan capital of Kampala,
growing up in deprivation and fear that few members of our New York
audience could imagine. Her discovery of Katende’s local chess club
became a miracle for Phiona, showing her that she could achieve
intellectually. More important than that her chess talent has allowed
her to travel the world, she now plans to be a doctor! This is the first
and most powerful gift chess can provide, a self-confidence that
transforms a child’s view of his or her potential. Very few kids can
truly expect to turn success at football or other physical sports into
an education or career. This is also true for chess, but the knowledge
that you can compete, succeed, and enjoy yourself on an intellectual
level applies to everything you undertake in life...
When you look around the world’s trouble spots, you see that when
kids don’t have access to education, many of those who are being saved
by Western aid are destined for lives of misery and violence. Do not
misunderstand me. This is of course not an argument against providing
life-saving drugs or a denunciation of the brilliant and caring people
and programs that provide them. But do not turn away as soon as the
babies are born and fed. Do not turn away at all. Look at the young boys
enslaved by drug gangs and armies of every stripe, at the unemployed
young men who find purpose and profit in victimizing their neighbors, at
the girls and women who are inevitably the greatest victims of
violence. The only medicine that can cure these plagues is safe and
equal access to a classroom.
The best proof of the truth of this may come from the other side,
from the brutal groups that burn down schools and shoot schoolgirls.
It’s rare to hear about coordinated attacks on aid that brings medicine
and food. These things pose little threat to the Taliban, or to the
regional warlords, or to the corrupt politicians who steal funds that
could go to help their people. Religious fanatics, mercenaries, and
armies all need healthy recruits, after all. What these thugs cannot
abide is the flourishing of education—with the noteworthy exception of
militant religious teaching that closes minds instead of opening them.
They despise the possibility of an educated population, knowing it would
mean the end of their kind in a generation. So the Taliban did not just
close the schools where 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai lived in Swat,
Pakistan, they destroyed them. They did not just tell Malala not to go
to school, they shot her.