Sunday, October 26, 2014

Just how good is Buster Posey and how does baseball connect to education?

Baseball. It’s considered by some to be the American pastime. For those of you that don’t follow the game, the grand finale has started and the World Series is underway. This afternoon I read, “Just how good is Buster Posey?”  an article by Ted Berg in the October 23, 2014 issue of USA Today Sports.

I was interested in the article because I have a personal connection to Buster Posey. His grandmother was my principal many years ago. I know the family and what great people they are. It’s exciting to see someone you know excelling.

Berg illuminated an interesting fact about baseball in this article. He wrote about Posey’s offensive numbers, how he’s the best hitter on a World Series team. Then he explained that this is only half of the story because Posey plays baseball’s most physically demanding position, he’s the catcher. Being behind the plate is totally different than being an outfielder. A catcher has to work with each pitcher on his team along with each hitter on the other team. He reads their hitters, their defenses, and learns everyone’s personality and game plans. 

Berg explains that it is nearly impossible to pare all the variables because there is so much anecdotal evidence that players hit better when they are moved from behind the plate. But Posey has been behind the plate for at least 110 games. According to Berg he’s caught every inning of the Giants’ postseason run this season.

Evaluating catchers can be difficult for baseball’s most dedicated statisticians. Berg states, “By its very nature, playing behind the plate requires a nebulous set of skills that are frequently discussed but impossible to measure, like calling pitches and negotiating a pitching staff’s various personalities.”

By the metrics that exist to try to measure catchers defensively, how does Posey look? He throws out base runners at an above average rate. He blocks wild pitches as well as anyone. He’s got a good arm and quite simply, he is a great catcher.

Berg concludes that Posey is extremely invaluable, even though it’s impossible to measure the full impact he has on his team. The point of baseball is winning, right? And Posey has already been the best player on two championship teams and now is only two wins from making it happen all over again.

At a time when baseball analysts are finding increasingly thorough ways to measure and assess players, educational analysts and politicians are doing the same thing in education.

The point of school is to educate students. It used to be enough to educate them to participate in the American democracy. But that is no longer enough. School must prepare students to participate and compete in a global environment. But just like baseball, there are many variables of school that cannot be measured. It simply is not possible to find a metric that will measure everything that a child learns in school.  It’s also not possible to find a metric that will measure everything that a teacher contributes to a child’s educational experience.

Posey comes out between innings and talks to the pitchers in the dug out. He tells them which pitches were good and which ones really weren’t good. He provides instant feedback that’s invaluable to the pitchers. Berg states that Posey is a dependable and consistent start on both sides of the ball. Posey has a unique collection of talents and quantifying each of his talents is impossible.

Teachers are like catchers. They provide instant feedback to their students, telling them what they are doing right, what needs to be improved, what they are doing that’s working or not. Teachers talk to parents during the day, at night, in the grocery stores, in the car pick up line and on weekends. Not only do they teach academic skills, they teach social and emotional skills. They teach skills about being healthy, making good choices and becoming contributing citizens of the world. They are invaluable to parents, students, and administrators.

Teachers each possess a unique collection of talents and quantifying each of them is just as impossible as it is to quantify Buster Posey’s assets and contributions to the San Francisco Giants.

I wish there was a way we could simply “accept” that everything in teaching can not be quantifiable, just like in baseball. After all, we all know what greatness looks like when we see it, but when we try to put it into words and numbers, it becomes impossible. Posey says that he likes baseball and enjoys playing the game. There isn’t a teacher that I know that became a teacher because of the money. They became teachers because they like teaching and love children.

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