Thou Shalt Not Kill

A very simple question for you today. If your pupils talks about ‘killing’ rather than capturing or taking a piece, should you correct them?

I recall at least one book which says you should, ‘for obvious reasons’.

When I’m teaching a class I’ll use ‘capture’ or ‘take’ rather than ‘kill’, and will usually continue to do so, even if my pupils use other words. A few months ago, though, I was in a primary school classroom with a (female) class teacher who was using ‘kill’ all the time. If I’m teaching a private pupil I’ll start by using ‘capture’ or ‘take’ but if my pupil uses ‘kill’ I’ll probably join in. This is to some extent connected with last week’s post about the two types of teacher. When I’m doing one to one teaching I’ll try to get inside the mind of my student, in a sense almost to ‘become’ him. A colleague who saw me doing some one to one teaching a year or so ago commented that I was like a child, which is exactly what I try to be. So if the child sees a capture as ‘killing’ an enemy piece then I’m happy with that as well. Children are well aware of the difference between reality and fantasy, even if adults think they’re not. It always seems to me that adults spend a lot of time inventing problems that children don’t really have, while sometimes neglecting children’s very real (to them) problems.

I did once have a problem in this sort of area though. I was supervising a class doing a verbal reasoning paper. There was a code question which led to the answer ‘divorce’. This upset one boy whose parents were going through a particularly difficult divorce at the time. So it’s probably a good idea to be aware of individual circumstances.

There also seem to be interesting cultural differences. In my experience, children whose families originate from the Indian sub-continent, girls as well as boys, tend to say ‘kill’. French children, on the other hand, often say ‘eat’. I have no idea why – is ‘manger’ used in French?

Don’t forget that chess is a symbolic representation of a battle. If you’re fighting a real battle you might, according to circumstances, either capture or kill your enemy. You wouldn’t ‘take’ them, whatever that might mean, and you certainly wouldn’t eat them. If you capture your enemy they might escape, or you might, if feeling merciful, decide to release them. If you kill them, though, they’re out of the battle for good. The same is true of chess. The only way a piece can reappear is via pawn promotion, but, as we’re allowed more than one queen, it is very specifically a conversion of one piece to another rather than a lost piece coming back into the game.

So, in principle, I have, except in specific circumstances, no problem with ‘kill’, and I’ve never met a child who has a problem with the word either. As I’m aware that some adults do have a problem, I’m careful about when I use it. If a child leads I will follow. In a group environment I’d probably continue to use other words, but I wouldn’t correct any child who said ‘kill’ for ‘capture’. And, just in case you’re interested, I’m a lifelong pacifist.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.