Debate Magazine

Why Playing Risk is an Educational Activity (from the Archives)

By Stevemiranda

At PSCS, we don’t believe in the traditional hierarchy of subjects. In schools around the world, math and science seem to be the subjects deemed most important. Then come the humanities and foreign languages, and the arts are famously the first things to be cut in a budget crunch.

PSCS is different. We’ll offer classes in Algebra II and Russian, Shakespeare and U.S. History. But we’ll also proudly offer classes in Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Risk.

In Risk, students will gather in a classroom and play the Parker Brothers board game Risk. Last year, this class was facilitated by a senior, and about five or six other students signed up to be in the class. The senior had a vision of the class being a space where boys could be boys, and they could engage in some rowdy trash-talking while they attempted to take over the world. A staff member pointed out that 6th and 7th graders might sign up for the class—would the level of dialogue exchanged during the game between older students be appropriate for younger boys?

Hmmm, good point, the senior said. He wrote up a course description that explicitly noted that the class may include some mature themes.

Then, for 10 weeks, the boys got together and played Risk. What did they learn from this class?

The facilitator learned about how much courage it takes to step out of your comfort zone and lead an activity. He learned about judgment regarding mature themes, and about the responsibility of being a mentor for younger kids. He learned about the discipline needed to be in class for every session, to take attendance, to keep the game board intact over time (because it takes weeks to actually finish a game of Risk). He learned about leadership, and organizing people.

But the biggest thing he learned, that all the boys learned, was that they are in charge of their own education. They strengthened their sense of self-direction, which is one of the most important things anyone can develop.

Finally, by participating in this class, the boys were happy. When young people are immersed in an environment in which they feel respected, they feel autonomous, they feel like adults trust them—when they feel happy—they’re much more likely to take advantage of other learning opportunities going on around them. They’re much more likely, when an adult says, “I’m teaching an Algebra II class, wanna sign up?” to say, “Yes.”

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