Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Education is the Best Weapon Against Hatred and Prejudice

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.

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