“Success is never so interesting as struggle”
― Willa Cather
It was the bottom of the last inning and we were trailing 6-1. In order to get a shot at winning, we were going to have to score the maximum allowable runs per inning of 5. That would send the game into the extra-innings, and give us a shot at victory. A daunting task, but not an inconceivable one.
We had the top of the order at-bat, and we’d never lost to this team.
Peter was our first hitter, and after running the count to full, he hit a screaming liner up the middle for a double. Promptly stealing third, we were now poised to score the first of the five needed runs. One of our best hitters was at the plate, so things were off to a great start.
Peter has always been aggressive on the base path, showing an understanding of the art of baserunning at an early age. Due to this fluency, our third base coach had a tendency to try and push him beyond his comfort level, and be even more aggressive. Something I’ve cautioned against throughout the year, with mixed results.
The batter ran the count to one and two. With my attention focused on the kid at the plate, I was shocked when Peter was suddenly caught up in a run down. Apparently, the third base coach had pushed him into a bigger lead than circumstances warranted and the pitcher was able to trap him off base. Taking the only option available, Peter sprinted towards home, diving for home plate at the last moment in a vain attempt to dive under the tag. He was nearly successful, but the ump called him out.
Just like that circumstances shifted. Momentum went out of the game. I was livid and Peter was in tears, protesting that he had made it under the tag – a point the ump conceded after the game. It didn’t matter, the play should have never happened, “What were you doing?”, I asked, angrily confronting the forlorn ballplayer, “We spent the last week talking about playing smart, now this? You just gave the game away.”
“I did not. I was listening to my coach. He told me to take a bigger lead, so I did!. I didn’t want to, but you always tell me I have to be coachable, so I listened to him!. Now I’m in trouble! What do you want me to do!” He was inconsolable, but his argument was not without merit.
Conceding his point, I bit my tongue and turned my attention back to the play at hand. The next two outs came quickly, and the game ended with a whimper instead of a bang. As did the season. A season filled with such promise. Promise, that would, unfortunately, go unrealized.
Most of the boys have been with me for three seasons now. I have watched them go from awkward to polished. From unable to make contact, to regularly driving the ball out of the infield. From frequently dropping fly balls, to making the catch seem routine. They’d mastered most of the skills required to compete at the 12-year-old level. The expectation had been that this would be our year to win the league championship. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.
The beauty of baseball is that it is as cerebral as it is physical. Like life, the faster and strongest don’t always come out the victor. Games are won and lost on mental lapses. And ours seemed to come at the most inconvenient of times.
We were competitive throughout the season but often came up one or two runs short. Plagued by innings of errant throws, wild swings, and dropped balls. Always poised on the cusp of greatness, but never quite able to cross the precipe.
Baseball is a sport that closely mimics life. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the just-completed season. And I found myself, in the wake of the abrupt season end, ruminating about the lessons from the game and their application to life.
As adults, it is our responsibility to usher children into adulthood. In doing so, we need to guard against imposing too many of our ambitions on their shoulders. There is a small chasm between pushing a young person to reach their potential and using them as a vehicle to further our aspirations. In asking them to listen to us and follow our lead, we must never lose sight of who will eventually be playing the game and therefore must remain ever vigilant that our guidance is actually setting them up for success.
As an example, I would point to the upcoming season of summer school. Why are we requiring assessments before and after sessions? Did students not just complete a round of assessments? Is that data not available? It was promised that scores for TNReady would be available within weeks of completion, yet here we are and I’ve heard nary a word. Was all that for naught?
Everybody concedes that this year was a difficult one. Students, teachers, and families, are exhausted, and in need of time to recharge. In our rush to make up supposed lost time, how are current efforts different from the runner who sprints the second mile of a 5-mile race, due to a slow start, only to find themselves physically unable to finish the last mile because they have exhausted all reserves? Would it not be smarter to more judiciously pick up the pace, in order to successfully compete for the duration?
Unfortunately, education is populated by too many people who are only seeing the short-term picture and are letting their own ambitions get in the way. A judicious path doesn’t justify 6 figure salaries or get a piece of the current extra-large federal pie. Nobody shows up at the SCORE convention and loosens purse strings by preaching a measured pace or painting too rosy a picture. Checks don’t get written based on faith in children like they do when rooted in adult convictions.
The federal pie is currently so large, that the Tennessee Department of Education is hiring 22 people for the sole purpose of managing the money. Think about the irony here, a chronically underfunded system now is so flush with cash that it has to hire 22 people just to keep an eye on the new cash infusion. 22 people are getting paid taxpayer dollars in order to monitor the usage of taxpayer funds. Up is down, and down is up.
In reflecting on the just-completed baseball season, it would be easy to classify it as a failure. After all, we use wins/losses as a barometer, in a manner not unlike in which TNReady is used for schools. The expectations were that a successful season meant more wins than losses. This season didn’t meet those expectations, so therefore it gets classified as a failure, right?
But was it a failure to the kid that was unable to catch a high flyball in the outfield with regularity in the past but now does it with regularity?
Was it a failure for a kid who got an opportunity to take the mound for the first time ever? He might not have been successful, but the experience may set him up for future success.
What about the kids that learned how to socially interact with teammates? Or the one that found the beginnings of their leadership voices?
What about the one that is still maturing, so he hasn’t fully grown into his physical capabilities yet? For him, the season was another piece of a puzzle whose picture is still emerging.
Declaring the season a failure is entirely dependent on the measurement we use. People argue that a budget is a moral document, but what we choose to measure is equally so. Just like a budget demonstrates our values, assessments do the same. What we measure indicates what we consider important. In that light, I’d caution about a rush to judgment. and maybe a deeper conversation about what we measure.
The past school year is a prime example of why that conversation is warranted. Last year was hard. It was uncomfortable. It was different from anything most of us have ever experienced before. But was it a failure?
I’d argue that it wasn’t for the kid who was able to interact in class for the first time. To participate in class discussions free of social pressures.
I’d argue for the kid who was able to use the increased flexibility to allow them to continue school work while helping to support their family by working. Not working as a student is not a luxury afforded to all. What about the student that was a little less pressed for time when helping care for siblings and still attending class?
I’d argue that it taught kids much-needed time management skills. Never in the past have the expectations for managing their own education been as high. How the acquisition of these skills translates into adulthood will remain undetermined for perhaps as long as a decade. It wouldn’t surprise me if we discover that kids who were schooled during the pandemic have an advantage over those that come immediately before or after them. But I suspect that current education watchdogs will have long forgotten this class of students before that time arrives, sparing us that conversation.
For my kids, the biggest lesson will be that life comes at you hard and it seldom fits your preconceived notions. You don’t get to decide what life throws at you. Life is filled with randomness no matter how we prepare. What you do with what you are given determines what you get.
We are so quick to try and write this year off as a failure. To accuse people of stealing a year from kids. Acting as if education consists of wheeling a child into the building, opening up their head, and pouring the contents of the predetermined, and age-determined jar of knowledge into their head. It doesn’t work that way.
I am 55 years old, and upon reflection, I can’t tell you which of my past years classify as success and failure. Certainly, a case could be made for the years preceding my shift to sobriety qualifying as lost years. I was staying wherever I could, barely keeping a job, always short on money. My health was declining, as were my opportunities. By most societal measurements, that was the picture of failure.
But while I never want to repeat those years, I’m eternally grateful for them. For it was in those years that I learned empathy and humility. I learned the value of forgiveness, and I learned just how tenuous life is. It was an extremely difficult time, one that sucked beyond compare, but without those times, I would not be able to fully enjoy the life I now lead. Nothing today would be possible without that yesterday.
This leads me to wonder if the real disservice being committed towards children right now, isn’t in how we frame the last year. Are we robbing them of the ability to enjoy long-term success by drilling down on short-term goals? Are we failing to adequately prepare them for the many challenges life sends them by insisting on a limited worldview? Legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi used to tell his players, “Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man. But sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.” Are we helping kids to develop a mental attitude that can survive any challenge?
Over the years, I have added several instances where the value of teachers and lessons have been revealed well after the delivery date. It’s a special feeling when a moment reveals the hidden importance of a long-ago taught lesson. “Ah, that’s why they insisted on us paying attention to that point. How’d they know this would come into play?’, I would think.
I pray that we are not robbing kids of those great moments by our over-focus on the present. That would be a crime.
Tibetans, a culture that has faced more than its fair share of tribulations, including attempted cultural genocide by the Chinese, view life’s challenges as a blessing not enjoyed by other people. Life’s challenges are an opportunity to test both one’s self and their faith. It’s safe to say that you won’t hear them decrying a lost year.
I recently attended a live performance by my kids’ school band. It was an amazing event and it was obvious that the kids are blessed to be led by a skilled and passionate educator. The only detriment to me was the constant reference to “remote” band not being “real” band. That’s not a true statement, and shouldn’t be allowed to go unchallenged.
It may not be ‘band” in a manner in which we are used to. It’s not how are we comfortable. It’s not “band” conducted in a manner envisioned by us currently. But it is a “real” band. And there are elements of it that will be further developed and eventually included in accepted practice. There were those who once claimed Miles Davis wasn’t “real” jazz. Today his name is arguably the most recognized one in the genre.
I’m reminded of a story related by jazz critic David Hadju for an article in the Atlantic Magazine,
The fourth song was a solo showcase for the trumpeter, who, I could now see, was indeed Marsalis, but who no more sounded than looked like what I expected. He played a ballad, “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You,” unaccompanied. Written by Victor Young, a film-score composer, for a 1930s romance, the piece can bring out the sadness in any scene, and Marsalis appeared deeply attuned to its melancholy. He performed the song in murmurs and sighs, at points nearly talking the words in notes. It was a wrenching act of creative expression. When he reached the climax, Marsalis played the final phrase, the title statement, in declarative tones, allowing each successive note to linger in the air a bit longer. “I don’t stand … a ghost … of … a … chance …” The room was silent until, at the most dramatic point, someone’s cell phone went off, blaring a rapid singsong melody in electronic bleeps. People started giggling and picking up their drinks. The moment—the whole performance—unraveled.
Marsalis paused for a beat, motionless, and his eyebrows arched. I scrawled on a sheet of notepaper, MAGIC, RUINED. The cell-phone offender scooted into the hall as the chatter in the room grew louder. Still frozen at the microphone, Marsalis replayed the silly cell-phone melody note for note. Then he repeated it, and began improvising variations on the tune. The audience slowly came back to him. In a few minutes he resolved the improvisation—which had changed keys once or twice and throttled down to a ballad tempo—and ended up exactly where he had left off: “with … you …” The ovation was tremendous.
Sometimes we are only limited by our perceptions, coupled with an inability to improvise and adapt. Out of the ruins can emerge greatness if we are willing to let it spring forth.
As I finish this, my daughter wraps up class from the dining room table. Today was awards day, and she apparently won a couple. It was also one of her favorite teacher’s last day of teaching. “Dada”, she says to me, “We are her last class ever. That means we are history makers.”
“Yes, you are”, I responded.
She thinks for a moment, “I’m a history maker in a lot of ways. And you know what? I’m going to be a history maker in even more ways. When I grow up, I going to be a multiple history maker. You watch.”
I will and I can’t wait to see that history made. But it will unfold at its own pace, and I’m willing to wait because it ain’t about me. In this movie, mine is the role of supporting character.
The same holds true for my baseball team. We will disperse for the summer. Some of us will reconvene for fall baseball season, while some will move up to a different level. Some may decide that their baseball days are behind them. Whatever the case, this past season has been a blessing, and the lessons learned – by both them and me – will reverberate for decades. In ways both recognized and unrecognized. Lessons I am eternally grateful for.
In our own way, we are all history makers. And isn’t that ultimately the point of all of this?
Don’t let anybody tell you that membership in Chiefs for Change comes sans reward. Last month, Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools Director Millard House was announced as a member of the dubious organization. This month, if the word on the street can be believed, it looks like he’ll be calling Houston, Texas home as the new director of the city’s schools. In all fairness, House is recognized by all as a talented administrator and a leader to watch. But Houston has long looked to the reform crowd for its leadership, and House appears poised to continue that legacy.
The review of Tennessee math standards is about to begin as a lead-up to the creation of a new list of state-approved materials in 2 years. Last week the TNDOE released an RFP for someone to help facilitate that review. If you’ve been watching upcoming RFPs for opportunities you might have missed this one, as it’s listed as simply being for a “public review survey”. No mention of TNDOE in the header. If one didn’t know the TNDOE better they might suspect they were trying to downplay it. Near as I can tell, there is no ceiling on this one for compensation. But based on the enclosed scope, it could be a nice payday for a qualified contractor.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to check out the video of Tennessee Senator Heidi Campbell quizzing Commissioner Schwinn about a potential conflict of interest involving her husband. Poor Schwinn’s, always being persecuted by those that don’t love kids as much as they do. Luckily there is always lots of financial compensation to make up for the lack of appreciation. The Tennessee Hollar, always doing great work.
Let’s take a quick look at the results of this weekend’s poll questions. The first question asks, “Does the subject matter included in the new Wit and Wisdom concern you?” While the responses are limited, they are split equally between yes and no. 31% say “no’, while 29% answered “yes”. Not far behind, with 24%, are those who are looking closer. I get the feeling that this conversation is far from settled. Here are the write-ins,
- The style of lessons in Wit and Wisdom concerns me
Question 2 asks if you think only allowing graduating seniors 4 tickets was an appropriate policy? This one is also split right down the middle with 31% saying yes and 30% saying no. Interesting, after watching the celebration of the Predators victory celebration, I am even firmer in the former camp. Here are the write-ins,
- Not really a problem. Being blown WAY out of proportion given everything else.
- But the Preds can pack Bridgestone? Horrible
- 4 is enough
- I’m just glad to be done with the school system
Unfortunately, I think that the last write-in vote is being uttered by more people than we are willing to admit.
The last question asked you to assign a letter grade to MNPS Director Dr. Battle for the year. Apparently, she is exceeding expectations for most of you. Over 50% scored her at either an “A” or a “B”. 38% of you scored her as a “C” or lower. That one got no further comments.
If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.
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If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.
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