What We Can Learn from Baseball

Former major-leaguer Doug Glanville long ago shifted from glove to pen, and quite successfully. Today, for The New York Times, he writes about Alex Rodriguez, discussing how the quest for numbers misses the real point and beauty of baseball.

Two paragraphs stopped me:

Now major league baseball is in overdrive, stalking the players who inflated those numbers most until they submit, with the zeal of a new convert who has seen the light.

That light now shines in Alex Rodriguez’s direction, illuminating the emptiness of his choices. Statistically, his career rivals some of the best players of all time, but we’ve stopped talking about his numbers. His quantifiable performance is no longer part of the debate; his numbers have become irrelevant in measuring who he is as a baseball player.

Perhaps the first decade of the 21st century will be remembered as the decade of the number. For it’s not only in baseball that we’ve let them drive our thinking, our action, and even the placement of our money. We’ve done the same in education… and with much the same result.

Today, we involved in education are just beginning to see that light, to move beyond our (or some of our) unholy belief in the sanctity of numbers. We’ve begun to see the emptiness of the “reformer” promises and the rankings of schools, teachers, and students that dominated the years since No Child Left Behind was passed and numbers made us believe that our schools were somehow failing.

We’re a long way from recognizing the error of our ways (much farther away than baseball is, it seems), but scandals in Atlanta, Washington, DC and elsewhere are beginning to show that numbers are “false” when used as sole judge (that way, they actually encourage cheating… doping in sports, changing answers in schools and grades of schools–as in Tony Bennett’s case in Indiana) but that there’s much more to be learned–in sport or in life–than can be quantified:

This is not to deny that numbers are endemic to baseball’s soul. We know 714. We know 56, maybe even 4,192, and we know who wore 42. We know the iconic numbers, but the day-to-day connection we make with teams and players comes instead from how closely we can touch the fabric….

Numbers are also at the heart of education, and they will always be useful but, here again, they can only be a part of the game.

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