Winning the tournament is not our goal for B. Frankly, in first grade, it would probably be unrealistic. We want him to love the game, flex his brain muscles a bit, and have some fun. Every week, before the tournament, we review our goals: Play as smart as you can. Be kind to your opponent. Be gracious regardless of the outcome - you are there for fun.
The tournament is run by the teacher assigned to the Talented and Gifted Program (TAG). It is a somewhat ironic placement because, while she is really enthusiastic, she isn't so much "gifted". As such, the TAG program is notorious for being "more" stuff, rather than "more interesting" stuff for the TAG kids. This is what we've experienced with Z in the program and one of many reasons we are on the verge of homeschooling Z next year.
The TAG teacher was unable to figure out how to run a double elimination round-robin. So, J made a diagram for her showing how the brackets work. She thought that was too complicated and couldn't understand the winner and loser brackets, so decided on a double-elimination point system instead. Two losses and your out, but the point leader still standing at the end takes all. A reasonable alternative.
At six-years-old and in first grade, B is having a great run. The first week, he played a disappointed third grader that wanted to play someone older, so she would be "challenged" - B beat her. The second week, he faced a fifth-grader. This fifth-grader was cocky about facing a first grader at the start of the game - and started trash talking. B hasn't ever really heard "trash-talk" before. Then, when B started to gain the advantage, the fifth-grader (let's call him Joe) started trying to cajole B into making foolish moves: "you don't want to do that", "watch out, probably not a good idea", "oh, yeah - move that one". Finally, B was getting flustered, so J pointed out to him that he should play his own game and not let someone else manipulate him. A few moves later, B won by check-mate. J explained the circumstance to the TAG teacher, and mentioned that she really needs to talk to Joe about table talk, because it is really not allowed in chess.
Joe went to his mom (a teacher in the school) to complain that B's dad helped B win. Joe's mom went to the TAG teacher to complain. TAG teacher says "Oh, I'll talk to him about not helping his child". TAG teacher did not point out that Joe's behavior was unsportsmanlike. Then, she relented and while B kept the points for the win, she gave Joe a bye for the game that he lost. This solution is not great, but perhaps reasonable in that J did speak to B during the game. This would have been fine if accompanied by some sincere messages about fair play and honor.
But, it doesn't end there. The bitching has continued, Joe's mom has continued her relentles complaining that Joe was unfairly beaten due to J's assistance. So, this morning, the teacher announced that she has given both Joe and B wins for the game.
Since then, B has defeated a third grader and another fifth-grader, both by check-mate. B is tied for first in the tournament - with Joe.
This leaves me with so many questions:
- Do we wonder why Americans have a reputation for bad sportsmanship and whining?
- What kind of message does this send to children about honor and sportsmanship?
- How can we still respect this teacher for not (at least) making a point about fair play?
- Will B still like chess after this?