Professor Jerry Nash is the current chairman of FIDE’s Commission on Chess in Education. A long-standing educator who is passionate about helping others, Nash asserts in this interview conducted by Uvencio Blanco: “Chess can really positively alter the classroom environment by improving student behaviour and engagement”.
erry Nash was born in Lansing, Michigan on September 28, 1955. When he was very young, he moved with his family to a town nearby Paris, Tennessee.
His academic training has a strong humanistic background. He achieved a Master of Arts degree from the Tennessee Technological University (2012), a Master of Divinity degree from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1984), and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Tennessee (1977).
He is married to Ruth Price Nash (1977) with whom he has two daughters, Sarah and Rebekah. He is fond of reading, writing, walking, travelling, singing, playing the guitar and…chess.
Uvencio Blanco: Jerry, what is your academic background and your main areas of interest?
Jerry Nash: My professional experience is centred on teaching. I have always had a broad range of interests. My first Master’s degree (Master of Divinity) provided a background for theological education and helped me to develop answers to the questions surrounding why we believe what we believe. My second Master’s degree in English helped me to develop my writing skills and fulfil my interest in exploring themes of good and evil in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. This was the thesis paper for my degree.
I enjoy literature of all kinds, and over the years I have come to understand the power of stories in our lives. I have also always had a passion for helping others to succeed. My current activities in chess arise from first-hand observations of the impact of the game on elementary school students. To have the greatest success in life, people need to make good decisions. I believe chess can help people develop the critical thinking and decision-making skills that are needed to survive and thrive in this world.
What have been your leadership experiences? For example, what can you tell us about your activity with the US-based Chess in Schools non-profit organization?
I have had a wide variety of leadership opportunities. I started as a classroom teacher. I served as collegiate campus minister and in a number of church leadership roles across a 20-year period. I have been an office administrator for a law firm. In 2005, I was selected as the Scholastic Director for the US Chess Federation. In 2017, I became a full-time National Education Consultant for Chess in Schools, a non-profit organization that focused on training teachers to play chess and use the game to deliver academic and 21st century skills.
Chess in Schools (not affiliated with the organization in New York) is soon changing its name to Chess in Education – US to better reflect our educational mission that goes beyond the K-12 setting. In 2021, Jesper Hall of the European Chess Union’s Education Commission invited me to be the Secretary for the group developing a global survey in partnership with FIDE. After the success of the survey, I was asked to lead the effort to develop a 4-year Strategy Action Plan for FIDE’s Chess in Education Commission. This group included CIE experts from more than 20 countries. Not long after, I became FIDE Senior Adviser for Chess in Education. And in November 2022, I was appointed Chairman of FIDE’s Chess in Education Commission.
Can you summarize your chess career in your country up to the FIDE Chess and Education Commission?
I taught myself how to play chess at the age of 14. I lived in a rural area of West Tennessee and no one else that I knew played chess. My first rated tournament experience was as a college freshman at UT Martin. Fast-forward many years and while I was working as a college campus minister in Lake Charles, Louisiana, I was contacted by the local school board. They asked if I would help them start a chess program in the schools. At that time, in an area of about 100,000 people, there were two of us who could help them. Later, our chess community grew to five adults who could teach chess and run tournaments.
But my experience coaching chess to elementary school students became the starting point for training teachers to introduce the game to their students. I saw first-hand how it was helping students to develop critical thinking skills that many of my university students did not possess. My later work as National Chess Education Consultant for Chess in Schools included two significant achievements. The first was a statewide Chess in Education initiative in Alabama sponsored by the state department of education and lasted for three years. Several research articles have been published as a result of the study that accompanied this project. The second achievement was another statewide Chess in Education initiative sponsored by the state Department of Education of New Hampshire.
Throughout the past 26 years, I have also led professional development (PD) for teachers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Detroit, Michigan, Washington DC and Tennessee. The consistent feedback from teachers attending the training — and seeing the results in the classroom — has been extremely positive. Many teachers over the years have stated that our PDs were the best that they had ever attended in their career as an educator. Since most American teachers must attend multiple PDs every year, I take this as a high compliment not just for the training, but for the reality of chess making a difference in their teaching and in the lives of their students.
In addition, I have delivered presentations on the educational connections of chess at numerous local, state and international education conferences as well as at international chess in Education Conferences. It is critical that we help embed the conversation about chess within the educational community to help establish its credibility.
In the exercise of your leadership, what have been the achievements that have given you the greatest satisfaction?
One of the passions throughout my life has been the drive to help others to be successful. Helping others is a core value for me. I have had the opportunity to do that as a teacher and especially as a campus minister for seventeen years. In the latter role, I counselled university students in making critical life decisions regarding faith, career and relationships. Providing a listening ear to students who often had no one else to go to provided a deep sense of satisfaction.
In recent years, creating meaningful professional development (PD) experiences for teachers has given me great pleasure. Most teachers enter that career to make a difference in the lives of students. I love to watch the discovery process take place during a PD as they realize that they can really play chess and use it in their classrooms. They leave the training eager to implement what they have learned. They contact me later about how it has changed their students and themselves as teachers. I am gratified to know that I have helped those teachers achieve their own goal of making a difference.
We are still under the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. In response to the statement that confinement is the greatest psychological experiment in history, what is your opinion?
It is unfortunate that the latest pandemic occurred during a time of increased social polarization and media disinformation. The lack of trust within society that was already building exacerbated the negative impact both from a medical and psychological perspective. Better critical thinking skills and the ability to discern truth from fiction would have helped. These skills may be crucial when the next pandemic arises.
How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has affected education, particularly students in primary and secondary schools?
My wife is a second-grade teacher, so we saw the effects of the pandemic first-hand. The lasting impact has been difficult both for teachers and students. Teachers are now leaving the profession in larger numbers due to the stress imposed by government regulations as well as the increased difficulty in dealing with students who are farther behind in skill development than ever before. Students have suffered significant learning loss through the pandemic period. In addition, many of them find it harder to engage with teachers and other students as a result of the isolation.
Trying to make up for the lost time in developing knowledge and skills has placed enormous stress on the entire educational system. In the US, it is increasingly difficult to find qualified teachers for all the classrooms. And if a teacher gets sick, it is almost impossible to find a substitute teacher.
As a person committed to educational chess, do you think that its entry into the school ecosystem could contribute to the improvement of learning in these children and young people?
Chess as an educational tool can be a significant resource for schools. Students are engaged by the game. Engaged students are better prepared to learn. Teachers can use the game in the regular classroom setting to deliver academic and 21st century skills in a short period of time. And time is a significant factor for teachers to deliver quality instruction. Teachers do not have enough instruction time in their day as it is. To suggest that they “add on” yet another activity is enough to raise their blood pressure. Literally. This is why we stress that chess in education is about delivering the skills that they are already tasked to teach. They can do it faster with longer retention by students. Chess can really positively alter the classroom environment by improving student behaviour and engagement.
That’s why teachers in New Hampshire this past school year (2021-22) who attended our training were so excited to implement chess in their classrooms. They reported benefits for the school environment and even changed relationships with students. Chess can improve the student-teacher dynamic. So yes, I believe that even in the current stress-filled environment, chess as an educational tool is needed now more than ever.
Tell us about the EDU working team that will accompany you during the period 2022-2026. What are its strengths?
FIDE’s Chess in Education Commission includes 23 leaders from 22 countries. In addition, contributors from these and other countries work together with Commission members in EDU Workgroups such as Research, Universities, Education Awards, Strategy Workshops, Website Development and Content, and Social Media. These leaders bring a wealth of experience, expertise and commitment to the development of chess in education (CIE) globally. They are passionate about CIE because they have seen the skills for students that the game can develop. They bring to this team a variety of perspectives, great ideas for development, and the ability to collaborate in order to accomplish our objectives.
Can you tell us what are the most outstanding ideas and projects for this period? What motivates you?
It’s hard to narrow this down to just a few! Our workgroups are meeting regularly to develop a variety of great projects for 2023 and beyond. I would have to say that three significant projects currently underway include a new EDU website (along with new websites for the FIDE Journal of Chess in Education website and a research database), revised teachers and leaders courses by the International Advisory Board, and a Development Team to help federations develop sustainable CIE programming.
What motivates me? I am excited to have the opportunity to work with so many people who are passionate about changing the lives of students. When you reach a student, you reach a family. When you reach enough families, you change a community. Reach enough communities and you can change a country. I am motivated by this opportunity to help make a difference in society.
As President of the EDU Commission, what is the mission, vision and purpose of chess in education?
EDU’s Mission is: To make chess an essential tool for educating students around the world. Another way of saying this is that the focus of FIDE’s Chess in Education Commission is to expand the global outreach for chess in education.
We see a significant value of CIE for federations that includes a source of significant growth in numbers, access to financial and human resources they may not have had previously. But becoming a partner in education places the federation in a new light. And finally, CIE fulfils the federation’s mission to have a positive impact on society.
The role of FIDE EDU includes the following: access key stakeholders, build the CIE community, provide training & resources, encourage & enable CIE-related Research, increase quality professional development opportunities, assist federations & organizations to expand CIE.
FIDE EDU’s goals for the next four years: position FIDE as the global leader in Chess in Education, double the number of teachers delivering chess-related instruction (from 92,500 to 200,000), double the number of students involved in chess (from 25 to 50 million). The numbers mentioned above are based on the 2021 global survey conducted by the ECU and FIDE. The EDU’s vision for 2023 is threefold: improve communications, expand resources and build sustainable programs.
The management of President Arkady Dvorkovich has given important support to the work of the Chess and Education Commission. What direction do you intend to give to your management? Has Dvorkovich himself given you any suggestions in this regard?
It is clear that FIDE management is supportive of Chess in Education. They believe in its potential even though they are not professional educators. And they are having more and more conversations with federation and government leaders about establishing CIE initiatives. My goal is to help them become more fluent in the language of CIE so that they can approach those conversations with greater knowledge and confidence. They know it is not enough just to get a leader to say, “chess is good”. There must then be a plan to implement a CIE project.
So once FIDE management has those conversations, they can refer them to me to help develop the next steps. And that is why I created the CIE Development Team to help countries construct initiatives that meet the needs of each local context. We must do more than just offer teacher training courses. We must help them build a support structure that assists in maintaining a sustainable program. And we must help them all along the way understand the foundational idea of chess as an educational tool. That is, using chess as the vehicle to deliver academic and 21st century skills.
Most of the world’s most advanced countries have concluded that there are four megatrends: ICTs, biotechnology, nanotechnology and cognitive sciences. From the EDU Commission’s perspective, what links could we make with each of these?
Every one of these fields demands literacy, math and critical thinking skills. They require familiarity with the scientific method, with problem-solving and collaboration. Teachers can use chess-related activities to make deliberate connections to these skills and more. We just have to show them how. On top of that, new courses are being created that link chess and coding and chess and AI. I believe that educational chess could be a critical part of preparing students for careers in any of these fields.
Africa, South East Asia and Latin America are probably the regions most in need of EDU attention. What can the Commission do to contribute to the solution of their problems and limitations?
As EDU Chairman, I have a commitment to expand CIE globally, especially in those places which need increased attention and support. The first step is to listen. So I have initiated conversations with leaders in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America. Thank goodness we live in an era of Zoom meetings! But in-person conversations and planning are crucial for success. Hopefully those are soon to occur. I need to hear from federation leaders concerning their needs, goals, and overarching vision. I also need to understand what are the specifics of their context that need to be considered in planning a CIE initiative. A one-size-fits-all approach will never work. We must adapt to the local context. In some cases, we need to help leaders understand the concept of chess in education. We may need to personally assist federations in approaching stakeholders and funders. I have already had calls (and in some cases, in-person visits) with leaders from each of these areas. Our dialogue will then help us to decide the best pathway forward.
There is another aspect to this. In many countries, some really wonderful CIE work has been happening for quite a while. These efforts need to be brought to the world’s attention. We in the CIE community need to learn from each other. We need to hear the challenges as well as the success stories. So I hope that more and more of these stories can be told on our updated FIDE EDU website.
I recently published a book entitled “Chess, cognitive science and education”. There I put forward the hypothesis that knowledge from neuroeducation improves the performance of teachers and instructors in the teaching-learning process of our schoolchildren, not only in academic subjects but also in the study of chess. What is your opinion on this?
We intuitively believe in the power of chess to change the lives of students. And much research focuses on that aspect. But how chess can improve teachers’ instructional skills is an understudied area of research. My focus over the last 20+ years has been on helping teachers to improve their instructional goals by using chess. Consistent feedback from teachers has been that this process has improved their teaching along with the student-teacher relationships. This should make sense, since we advocate that chess can help students with adaptive thinking. It should also help teachers with adaptive classroom responses. Hopefully, additional research in this area will occur.
Who is the most intelligent chess character you have ever dealt with?
I have had the opportunity to meet and/or become friends with several top chess coaches and players. Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to become better acquainted with Judit Polgar. I admire her transition from professional chess player to an advocate for educational chess in Hungary and beyond. Her Global Chess Festival is a great boost for the visibility of chess as an educational tool. She is a terrific spokesperson for education and for chess in general.
If you had to choose a partner for a chess education venture, who would you choose between Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg and why?
I don’t know any of them personally, but Bill Gates would likely be my first candidate because he has already demonstrated a commitment to advance education.
We would like to thank our colleague, Professor Jerry Nash, for the attention and quality of the answers given in this interview, as well as the effort and dedication put into the service of educational chess.
This article is originally published on ChessBase.