Today marks the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947. The remembrance of this moment in baseball might be the single best decision made in the sport that I love. Money changes everything (at least according to Cyndi Lauper) and baseball is no exception. Yet, this is the deal we make to have certain types of experiences. For every game that I am able to attend at our beloved home park, AT&T Park, I must concede that this comes at a price. I don’t mind paying for parking and food and drinks and snacks and the tickets because I enjoy the rewards that come in return. Mostly it gives me a chance to share something special with my son that links us forever in a very unique way. Yet the honoring of Jackie Robinson on this day goes way beyond this.
As a culture, as a people, we screwed up and there is no way to to repay or make up for this mistake, and all of the others we continue to make. So we must continue to strive to move forward. The gesture of having every single MLB player wear the same number, 42, is a simple but powerful reminder that we are all Jackie Robinson and we are called to do our best to love and accept others, despite what differences we may have. I am so used to identifying players by their numbers (hey, did you know that Stephen Drew is wearing the same jersey number as his older brother, JD when he was on the Red Sox?) that the sight of every player wearing 42 is eye-opening in the most visible of ways. Wait, I thought Ryan Dempster was pitching today? Nope, Jackie Robinson…
Yes, I did recently see the movie, 42, and this surely hit hard with me. I have rarely felt such constant emotion during a movie as I did this past weekend. (Normally I just cry at the end of movies… you had me at ‘hello’) This is much deeper and it is my job to make sure my children, my students, my friends know what this means. Thank you to the makers of this movie for re-igniting the flame of Jackie’s legacy. But mostly, thank you to Jackie for being my hero and showing me what being strong is all about.
So Much Data!
Attending a baseball game can have everything from lip-biting excitement to numbing boredom. There are many who have no use for its pace or its controversies. And baseball seems to lag behind football and basketball in apparent appeal. Yet baseball absolutely dominates in the way that it generates data. Damn!
I am late in coming to the sabermetric party so none of this is news to anyone paying attention. Yet being a science teacher and a baseball fan converges two passions that find common ground in data collection.
The sheer volume of data is staggering. Every pitch, every pitch speed, every swing, every location of ball in play – every everything is observed and catalogued for analysis. What I enjoy about data is the objective look it brings to the observed.
As written by my favorite writer, among others, the goal of this data is to make sense of large groups of data and not to draw conclusions based upon small sample sizes. This brings me to my focus here: coaching students on the importance of more data as a way of getting at answers. “Is one trial enough?”
I think my response should be, “Only if you think the first at bat is predictive of the next.”
We only learn when we fail. I believe this to my marrow so I will state this again for emphasis. We only learn when we fail. It is therefore unfortunate that my job is wholly centered on grades at times when it could be directed towards learning. I find deep irony in the fact that for many students the purest of learning moments occurs during and immediately after an exam or test. Take test – see answer key – Doh!
The trick is to structure the class so that they aren’t afraid to make mistakes. So how do I do this without crushing the very spirit of the student? Failure means lower grades – lower grades means lower GP – lower GPA means less chance to go to college – less chance to go to college means that I am less of a person and should feel deep shame? Regardless of what I think of this cycle it does exist and rules the lives of so many.
I guess that’s one of the reasons why I love baseball so much. Success is predicated on how a player rebounds from failure and not the failure itself. Most at bats result in running to first base followed by running back to the dugout. Let’s repeat that: the default condition in baseball is running back to the dugout after swinging a bat. I am not sure it’s possible to create the same environment in the classroom but that’s what I want. I want students who aren’t afraid to fail because they aren’t afraid to try.
Heck, I have students in class right now who are afraid to write down notes during class because they might have to make alterations as I develop a concept during class. They wait for the packaged answer so that they can memorize and move on. No, I don’t want to hear that I should accept the reality that grades are important and I should contribute to the already rampant grade inflation pervasive everywhere. No, I refuse to buy into the notion that my primary job is to help students get into college. I’ll live in my little bubble because accepting that truth is too brutal to bear.
So, I want a classroom that feels more like a baseball game than a checklist to memorize. Batter up!