Kids, Baseball, and Schools

It’s 8 PM during an April vacation week evening and I can actually find a few minutes to reflect and write. Above the glow of my laptop is the brighter glow of my TV displaying the Boston Red Sox playing about an hour and a half south of here at Fenway Park. Baseball has been a significant part of my life from my attending the 1967 World Series in St. Louis (against the Sox), to a great childhood playing baseball, and the joy of sharing three Sox World Championships with my family since 2004.

It’s against this backdrop that I read an article this week entitled Why Are Kids Leaving Baseball written by Darren Gurney, a longtime baseball coach and advocate for the sport. It’s been clear to me that baseball no longer holds the same allure for kids that it did when I was playing in the 60s and 70s. Gurney articulately describes the shift in baseball popularity, perhaps reflecting a societal adjustment too. Here are some of Gurney’s ideas and my parallel to schools:

Lack of Stimulation
In this era of digital entertainment, baseball is just too slow for many kids. They are used to being entertained. Often teachers feel a similar challenge – that the knowledge we impart is not always good enough to motivate students. We search for “hooks” that force us to find creative ways to invest students in their own learning.

Too Much Failure
The best players in the game only get a hit one out of three times they are at bat. Our generation of students is used to winning more often than that. Of course, a real baseball fan or player knows that a walk can be as valuable as a hit and an out can result in moving along a runner on base or even drive them in. A sacrifice fly can drive in a run as well. In the modern game, there’s even a “good out”, one that creates long counts, numerous foul balls and forces the pitcher to throw 10 or more pitches.

Failure is not an all or nothing proposition and there’s so much literature on this subject in 2016. We have to teach kids that a failed math problem can yield understanding on process. Failing allows us the potential to learn from our mistakes and adopt a safe trial and error perspective on life.

Not Everyone is a Winner
Coach Belichick’s oft-repeated phrase Do Your Job relates well to the world of education. The secret to many championship seasons is the commitment on the part of players to know their role and do it well. When players try too hard to be the star instead of laying down the sacrifice bunt at the right time, losing is generally the result, at least in the long term.

Yes, we have to encourage our students to explore every avenue of interest in order to find their talents. But it’s reasonable for students to learn that talent in every arena is not necessary or even plausible. Every team has specialists.

Old, not cool
Alas, baseball is just not chic. It’s fans are mostly white, male, and graying fast. I’m not suggesting that schools need to adopt “chic-ness” as part of a long range district plan. But, the classrooms of the 2010’s don’t look so different from the classrooms of the 1950’s in some ways. We don’t change to be cool – we change to meet the needs of our students as they are.

Busy Parents
Baseball was the sport you worked on in the backyard with your Dad or Mom. There really is less time for that with parents working more hours. A Gallup survey recently showed that the average full time employee week was 47 hours, essentially a six-day work week. We now depend more on coaches to be the sole teachers of our young athletes. The demise of the 9 to 5 workday (I’m one to talk) results in our schools carrying a greater burden for educating all aspects of a child’s life.

Metaphors are potentially dangerous and one can draw too much from the transference of one segment of our existence to another. But it is fascinating to observe these inevitable societal changes and how they both reflect and impact the world of education.

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