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Monday, April 13, 2015

No Zero Grading Part V: It's Like Baseball

Sometimes complex issues can be boiled down to essentials using an analogy.  

I like to use baseball as an analogy, as it is a sport I loved and played as a kid, it is America’s past-time sport, and most people understand the game of baseball—even if they don’t necessarily like it.

So as I began thinking about the accusations of students being given grades they did not really earn, regardless of the effort they actually put forth, I thought baseball made perfect sense as the object of a comparison.

In baseball, the object is to win games by scoring more runs than the other team.  It is pretty basic.  You utilize good fielding, pitching, and hitting to score more runs than your opponent while simultaneously preventing your opponent from scoring runs against you.

Many would argue that hitting is one of the most, if not the most, essential skills a good baseball player must possess.  That’s why people talk incessantly about a player’s batting average.

But becoming a great hitter takes years and years of experience, practice, and dedication.

Unless you are a naturally gifted Ted Williams or Tony Gwynn, this means you take batting practice daily.  

Or twice daily.

Some players take 1000 cuts a day.  In the cage, off the tee, soft toss, from a machine, from a machine that throws curves, under hand, overhand, half speed, full speed.  You name it.  It takes repetition-- lots of repetition.

It also takes dedication.

Because to win games you have to first get to base---and being a great batter allows a player to get to base more often than his opponent--- by either hitting, drawing a walk, or capitalizing on a catcher’s error. 

So if you want to make great players, successful at the game of baseball, you have to develop hitters.
  Bottom line:  Batting is hard---success actually is achieved if you get a hit one out of 3 or 4 tries.

But imagine if someone suggested a different way to play baseball. 

Imagine for a moment that learning to hit didn't matter.  If you got up to bat and struck out, you would still be placed on second base, giving you a better chance to score.   If you popped-out, grounded out, or swung at wild pitches all day long and were thrown out at first every time—it would not matter.  If you decided you did not even want to bat at all, when it was your turn in the lineup-you could bypass the batter’s box altogether-- you would still get to go to second base.  Your team would

 score runs regardless of how they hit, and your team would be competitive in every game they played.
Because losing is no fun, and hitting is hard and takes lots of time, commitment, practice and dedication.
So in this fantasy league of baseball we are talking about here (the one that existed nowhere, ever), everybody would get a batting average of .500—whether they actually got the hits to justify this or if they just got “free passes” to second base regularly.  It would not matter.  Sounds great, right?
So what would happen?
On paper, things would look great!  Scores would go up dramatically-baseball scores would now look more like football or basketball scores.  Nobody would quit, because everybody would get to base and get to score.  It would be fun, and people would really love it.  Most importantly, the players’ self-esteem would be high, because everyone would be getting on base no matter what.
But what about the hitting?
Since hitting would no longer be important, the quality of hitting would go down.  Everyone gets to second base no matter what; everyone will get a .500 average, so why would anyone practice hard anymore?  Why would anyone take 1000 cuts a day anymore in this league-if how or if they hit the ball became irrelevant? Why put forth the effort if it means nothing?
So fewer and fewer would work on this skill, and those that actually were good hitters before this new system took hold, those players would practice less.  Those that never could hit-they would stop practicing all together.  It wouldn’t matter, right?  Of course it wouldn’t.
 But players here would play longer, fewer would quit, and none would be forced out.  Everyone would be a winner!
The downside would be huge, though.
The whole, overall skill level of all players in this sort of a fantasy league would drop, and this would be a shame. 
When players from this league that felt like they were “really good at baseball” tried to move to other leagues, it is only then that they would come to the sobering realization that they were not really good.  They were not good at all, because they were given things for which they did not work.
In fact, these players might even feel short-changed, ripped-off.   They might feel bad, and they would be justified for feeling bad.
Because in baseball, like life, you don’t get to second base for free-you have to earn it.  Coaches know that.
In life, like in the game of baseball, you have to work hard to get on base—which means you have to be a good hitter.
In life, and in school, (and in baseball) there are no shortcuts, you have to work hard and put in effort to make a good life, make good grades, and be a winner both on and off the field. 
And so let’s bring this baseball analogy back to what is pertinent and important.  School.

Anyone who thinks that giving kids grades they do not merit, for any reason, (to help self-esteem, prevent them from “quitting,” etc.) -anyone who thinks this is a worthy idea when it is broad-brush mandated from bureaucrats down to teachers institutionally—anyone who thinks this is delusional. 
Like in my baseball analogy, if we do this to them as a trade for short term gratification now, it only makes the depression and resentment grow later in life when they realize that the system never taught them to play baseball at all, the system failed them and deceived them into believing they could play ball and be winners.  
In reality, the system failed them for expediency-wanting to make the game more exciting and wanting to make the players feel better and make them feel  that they were, in fact, “good at baseball.” 
In reality, that system precluded these players ability to ever again be in a real game of baseball.  By doing this to baseball players, such a system would destroy players.
By doing this as it relates to school work, wrongfully promoting students en masse via artificially mandated “minimum grade floors,” we are taking kids out of the game, too. 
And sadly, I’m not talking about baseball, I’m talking about life.
And life is way more important than baseball, so let’s stop falling and tripping all over ourselves trying to make sure everyone gets to second base at every at-bat no matter what. 
Let’s get back to basics and have the courage to be honest with kids and tell them that to get to base (in life, school, or baseball) takes dedication, practice, and hard work.

Nobody gets a free-pass to second base in life, let’s stop handing them out in school via socially engineered “minimum grade floors.”

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