Rebuttal T David Carlton's Critique of GO FOR KIDS

Let me begin by thanking David Carlton for giving me this opportunity to rebut his criticisms of GO FOR KIDS. It was a very decent thing to do and is much appreciated!

In evaluating GO FOR KIDS it should help the reader to know that it did not emerge full blown as a result of some quick flash of insight. Instead, it represents the culmination of over 50 years of teaching Go beginners during which I wrote 3 prior Go primers for adults: The Complete Book of Go; followed by a somewhat less ambitious The Beginner's Guide To The Game of Go; and finally the least ambitious and most succinct The First Book of Go, only the last of which was (self) published.

Although I had also taught Go to my own son and his friends during this period, my real education into the unique challenges presented by teaching Go to juveniles was only completed during the course of the 8 years of my after school Go program in the South Huntington School District on Long Island, during which I introduced the game to over 750 primarily 3rd thru 5thgrade students. And because my formal profession hadn't been teaching, I augmented what I was learning from my direct student interactions with a self taught crash course on the problems in children's attention, perception, cognition, learning and general mental development, from Piaget onward. As a result, I became painfully aware that none of the extant Go primers was either specifically targeted at or adequately addressed the needs of the juvenile Go beginner. And since it seemed that no one else was either fully cognizant of that important deficit or capable of adequately addressing it, I quite reluctantly came to the realization that the only way for this key gap to be filled was if I did it myself. So GO FOR KIDS was conceived. But it took additional several years of rather prodigious effort to convert that concept into reality.

And now, after believing that I not only understood the problem but had found a unique solution to it, convincing a leading Go publisher (Yutopian) that it was worthy of their investment of time and money, recruiting the winner of my own personal (internet) art competition to create the illustrations, having it thoroughly vetted not only by my own panel of experienced juvenile Go teachers but Yutopian's as well, I find to my dismay that David Carlton says that GO FOR KIDS has nevertheless missed its mark! Fortunately for my ego and sanity, I believe that he is quite mistaken, and I hope to convince you of that as well in what follows.

Before specifically rebutting each of David's criticisms, I believe that the most important fact in deciding which of our two opposing views of the quality of GO FOR KIDS you should accept can be quickly and succinctly summed up.

When David was kind enough to email me with the information that his critique had been posted on the net (for which I thank him!), upon reading it I was immediately struck with the conviction that his criticisms had to be the opinion of someone who had no background or experience in teaching Go to juveniles, and I so informed him. In response he admitted "You made three guesses about me: that I don't have kids, that I've never taught anybody go (ed note: Not true! I didn't say this), and that I've never taught kids go. These guesses weren't all correct, though the one that I've never taught kids go was." But he nevertheless continued: "Clearly there are areas where we both have some measure of experience but still disagree; it seems likely to me that, even if I did have more experience teaching go to kids, I'd still disagree with you."

IMHO this is unwarranted hubris! I believe that if you were to check with any experienced teacher of juveniles (in any subject area) they would support my belief that someone who has never taught children on any sort of extensive basis cannot have any realistic understanding of what that requires!! And since David admittedly has no such experience, he is IMHO unqualified to make (and especially publish) judgments on the subject of whether or not what I've done in GO FOR KIDS is necessary, well timed or well stated!

Having established that most important aspect of my rebuttal, those readers who are still unconvinced can continue with the detailed chapter and verse of David's critique and my responses that follows. The others can either go on to view my web page using the link provided below, or can return to David's page.

David's comment:

"Unfortunately, this book has some problems. I prefer introductory go books that get players started playing relatively quickly, and that start with only the simple concepts necessary to get playing while deferring more complicated concepts to later in the book. That is not the way the book is written. Consider chapter 1; it's titled "Basic Ideas", and is one of 9 chapters making up the first part of the book. (To give you an idea of the flow of that first part, "Capture" is chapter 3, "Territory" is chapter 7, and "Ending/Scoring" is chapter 9, the last chapter in part 1. So you don't really learn everything necessary to play your first game until you've read 116 pages of the book.)"

My response:

Whoa there! I show a complete game on a 7 x 7 board on page 14-16! And I can see no reasonable way of introducing it any earlier. Of course that doesn't provide the reader with complete understanding, but that's what the entire book is designed to do.

David's comment:

"This first chapter begins with a discussion of the board, intersections, stones, and what a move is. Then, it talks about the division of each game into opening/middle game/end game. This already set off warning bells in my head - surely that topic could be deferred until people have actually played a few games? - but what was even more problematic is that next follows "'Magic Formula' 1", namely that, in the opening, you should play first on the corners, then the sides, then the center. This is illustrated on small boards: 9x9 boards at first, but then moving (without comment) to 11x11 boards for the sides and center examples.

My response:

David is quickly and dismissively glossing over Seho Kim's beautiful cartoon realizations of how to properly position Go stones on the board intersections, and of Samurai warriors defending positions in the corners, the sides, and in the center! These not only are beautifully rendered and eye catching, but convey the desired information without the need for any further explanatory comment!! So rather than David's implied criticism, they are really among the book's finest assets!! (And I find this very strange!! Perhaps an exemplification of a subconscious negative bias?)

David's comment:

Why on earth is this an appropriate topic? We're on page 7 of the book, and haven't covered many crucial topics necessary to play a game at all: surely we should be more worried about teaching the reader how to play the game, rather than niceties like this? (Recall that capturing won't be introduced for two more chapters.)"

My response:

My teaching philosophy for kids (in very simplified summary) is to "Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em, Tell 'em, then tell 'em what you've told them". Based upon my experience, introducing such ideas as "corners, sides, center" in easily digestible bites as early as possible has proved most effective in having the kids learn and integrate those ideas into their knowledge base. At this moment, none of the children will have any idea of the significance of this well known Go maxim, but that's irrelevant. Answering it well in advance of the time when they would finally get to the level of sophistication that would enable them to raise the question IN MY EXPERIENCE saves much time and lots of wasted "trial and error" effort. Finally, throwing out little tidbits like these keeps up their interest.

David's comment:

"The next topic in the first chapter is handicaps, followed by a sample game. Now, I'm a big fan of putting sample games in books before you've covered all of the rules, to give you an idea for what the game is like and what you need to know to get started. Iwamoto's Go for Beginners is a nice example of this; but that example game is careful to only present a few necessary concepts that haven't been covered yet (e.g. atari/capture, territory) and to explain those when they come up. The example game in Go for Kids, however, is completely different. Already at the seventh move we are told that "B7 (the two step Hane) is a very carefully calculated tactical play which presses Black's natural first move advantage to the limit";

My response:

And that comment isn't simple? It tells the reader that the move is correct and that its rationale is beyond the scope of a simple introductory example. If David can show me how better to describe it I'd like to know, because I'm always willing to learn! As an aside, none of the book's vetters or anyone else who has seen it has ever even mentioned this as a problem, so I have to assume that this is David's unique hangup.

David's comment continued:

"this is followed by a mention of subtle threats that would go way over the head of any newcomer that I've ever seen, and comments like "After W22, the Aji (remaining potential) of the clever sacrifice of W8 finally comes into play!" Basically, it reads like it's trying to impress the reader about how much the author understands about that game, rather than trying to present a game that the beginner could take something from. This was apparently a conscious decision: the next cartoon starts with a kid saying "Wow! I played over the game move-by-move as you suggested, but I still didn't understand anything that was happening!" I'm sure that many readers would feel the same way; I doubt that most readers would be as forgiving of the author as the kid in the cartoon."

My response:

Sigh! Apparently David doesn't understand the concept of "the tease" to capture the reader's interest. By indicating that there is much more to what's happening than meets the beginner's untutored eye, the reader is subconsciously induced to want to find out more! As for "trying to impress the reader" - puleese! Give me a break! I wrote the book, so what more would I have to do to impress the reader???

David's comment:

"And it's not just the first chapter that's like this: the whole first part of the book is that way, with simple concepts immediately followed by complicated examples that go far beyond both what has just been presented and what is necessary to get a beginner off and running. (The second part of the book doesn't suffer from this as much.) For example, the chapter on capturing (the third chapter, following a chapter on groups of stones and liberties) says when stones are captured, gives a single example of one stone being captured, and then moves on to suicide. It next returns to a simple example, this time of four stones being captured, but then almost immediately confronts the reader with a complicated example of a corner position where one side can capture four stones and the other side can then cut in such a way that will soon lead to the recapture of two stones. (In case I'm not describing it clearly, this is much more complicated than a standard example where black captures two stones and white immediately recaptures one stone.)"

My response:

What book was David reading (or what was he smoking?) when he wrote this??? Dia.1 doesshow a single stone capture, but then Dia.2 shows an extension from atari to escape, Dia.3-6 discusses self capture (illegal under AGA rules and I believe absolutely necessary to include here lest the beginner have any misapprehensions), Dia.7-9 illustrates the capture of a 4 stone unit, then Dia.10- 12 illustrate how outside liberties must be filled before it's legal to play on an eye, and then and only then, finally, do Dia.13-15 show the situation in which "the play beneath the stones" occurs! And this is shown for the same reason as noted above - provide simple examples for explication, and a much more complex one to intrigue the reader and show that things aren't always that simple.

David's comment:

"I also ultimately am not convinced that the cartoons in the book work well, though I imagine that other people may disagree with me."

My response:

If there's been one almost universal comment on GO FOR KIDS it's been that the cartoons are perhaps its greatest asset! And certainly no one but David has heretofore seen fit to criticize them. But let me respond to his further comments on this subject in more detail.

David's further comment on the cartoons:

Some of the cartoons have kids asking questions that seem like they would naturally occur in real life, like "what happens if you run out of stones when playing?"; I'm not sure that their presence really improves the book, but I don't mind those ones.

My response:

They don't improve the book?? One way or the other this perhaps most oft asked question MUST be answered, and what better way to do it than this??

David's critique of the cartoons continues:

"Others, however, ring less true to me: the kids seem too idealized, either asking just the right questions (and being told by the teacher how smart they are) or being confused but then getting reassured by the teacher in just the right way. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, though; I'm sure that many other readers wouldn't mind the cartoons at all, and I probably wouldn't mind them either if I liked the rest of the book."

My response:

Well! At least David seems to have grasped the concept underlying the cartoon panels, even though he seems not to understand why it must inevitably produce the result he complains about.

The cartoons are a device for advancing and then explaining the key questions that my experience has found to most bother and inhibit the development of the juvenile beginner, but which (for the most part) they are either unaware of or are unable to spell out in explicit fashion. The cartoon dialogues are therefore just a device for airing the Q & A in a kid-friendly way, rather than in a more formal (and boring!) textual presentation.

So what's happening here is that David is finding fault with the one aspect of GO FOR KIDS that's not only really unique, but which IMHO constitutes both its greatest strength and contribution to Go tutorial literature.

If he's right on this, then GO FOR KIDS should never have been written! Fortunately, I'm certain that he's very wrong, and I confidently expect the ultimate judgment of the market place to bear me out.

David's final criticisms:

"Some superficial notes: frankly, the quality of the drawing in the comics isn't very good. (You can judge for yourself at the author's web page for the book; the cartoons in the book are in black-and-white, not in color.) Also, the book is almost entirely in a typewriter-style font, which seems like a strange decision to me.

My response:

As previously noted, Seho Kim was chosen as the book's artist after an open competition on the internet in which applicants from several of the nation's leading art schools and colleges competed. And also as previously noted, no one else has complained that Seho's work was anything less than excellent, but since this is strictly a natter of taste David's opinion in this area is as valid as anyone else's.

The book's cartoons are (regrettably) only in B & W rather than in the color in which they were created strictly because printing in color would have too greatly increased both the cost and consequently the selling price of the book. But hopefully if it sells well enough the next printing could be in full color!

With regard to the font used - a legitimate criticism, perhaps, but as noted quite minor compared with all of the others.

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