The Square of Pride

by admin on April 13, 2012

What do you call it when your former student does something so insanely wonderful that you just want to tell the world, “That’s my student!”? And what do you call it when HER students do something so insanely wonderful that… etc.?

I call it Brooklyn Castle, a new documentary that was supposedly one of the hits of the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. It’s a film about the chess team at Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, New York, which has won 26 national championships under the tutelage of Elizabeth Spiegel (better known before her marriage as Elizabeth Vicary).

I’ve touted Elizabeth before in this space, but let me do it again, because this movie is going to make her famous to everyone, not just to chess players. I knew Elizabeth when she was a teenaged chess player in North Carolina. I taught her in my number theory course at the Talent Identification Program at Duke University. She was one of the brightest stars in the most awesome class I ever taught at TIP. A class that, I might mention, included another student who eventually became a number theorist!

Number Theory class, TIP 1990

Detail (Dana at top, Elizabeth second from right)

But Elizabeth went a different route, and I think it’s incredible what she’s done. At I.S. 318, she has taken a school where 60 percent of the kids live below the poverty line and she has turned it into the New York Yankees of the scholastic chess world. You might notice that there aren’t very many kids of color or kids below the poverty line in that TIP photo. Yet she has proven her ability to connect with children who come from a very different background from hers, and nurture their talent and their desire. How does she do it? I have no idea. But I hope that “Brooklyn Castle” will give her the credit that she deserves.

Of course the focus of the movie will be on the kids, not on their teacher. As it should be. What they’ve done is even more amazing.

I haven’t seen “Brooklyn Castle,” and it looks as if I will have to wait a while. This page gives a list of its upcoming showings, through early May, and I hope that they will keep it updated after that. Unfortunately, none of the showings are close to where I live. But if any of you live in Dallas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, Newport Beach, Toronto, or Montclair, NJ, I hope that you will go to the movie and tell the rest of us what you think about it.

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Elizabeth Spiegel July 18, 2012 at 6:46 am

wow, thank you so much, Dana. I have very fond memories of number theory class. 🙂

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