What if yesterday's National League Batting Title is metaphorical of how our obsession with numerical data and statistics is corrupting our love for baseball and learning?
Yesterday, September 28, was the last day of Major League Baseball's regular season. The pennant races proved to be full of barn-burning action, but to be honest, that's not what I found most interesting.
Today, I want to talk about Ted Williams, Jose Reyes and Ryan Braun.
First, some history.
Seventy years ago yesterday, Ted Williams went into the last day of the 1941 regular season with an epic batting average of .39955 which would have been rounded up to .400. When faced with the opportunity to not play on the last day of the season, thus ensuring his record-book average, Williams chose to play in a double-header against the Philadelphia Athletics.
Williams ended up going 6 for 8 that day and raised his average to an impressive .406. Later, Williams explained that had he not played, he would not have deserved the title. At the time, this was Williams first of six batting titles, and today, he is the only player since 1925 to finish the regular season with a .400 batting average.
Going into yesterday's final day of the regular season, the 2011 National League Batting Title was a two horse race between New York's Jose Reyes who had a small lead over Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.
Reyes, however, chose a very different strategy than Ted Williams.
After laying down a first inning bunt single, Jose Reyes promptly pulled himself from the game. This strategy allowed Reyes to preserve his league leading average while simultaneously forcing Ryan Braun into a position where he would need to go 3 for 4, in order to have a chance at the title. Unfortunately for Braun, he went 0 for 4.
But here's the difference, while Reyes chose to quit before the first inning was even over, Braun chose to play the entire game. Reyes collects accolades while Braun goes home empty handed. Reyes gets remembered. Braun forgotten.
Are you as disgusted as I am?
This story epitomizes the cancerous effects of our mania for reducing the things we love, like baseball and learning, to numbers. When an obsession with our batting average actually convinces us to quit playing or a fetish for our grade-point average persuades us to quit learning, I think it's time to pause and reflect on how our use of data is sabotaging our ultimate goals.
If the point is to succeed and/or conquer others rather than to stretch one's thinking or discover new ideas and abilities, then it is completely logical and rational for Jose Reyes and students to want to do whatever is easiest. To do what ever is easiest, which sometimes includes quitting like Jose Reyes, can maximize the chances of success or minimize the odds of failure.
To be clear, this isn't a Jose Reyes or little Johnny problem. This is a systemic problem that is the result of our mania for reducing something as magnificently messy as baseball and learning to statistics and grades. Campbell's Law tells us that the more any one indicator (such as test scores or batting averages) are used for decision making, the more that indicator will suffer from corruption, therefore, bastardizing the very processes it was meant to monitor.
There is no substitute for what a teacher can see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears when observing and interacting with students while they are still learning. Because the children are always watching us, I fear they will learn the same dangerous lesson from Jose Reyes that they learn from grading; that real learning and strategically conquering others are the same thing.