Cheating is such an integral part of baseball culture that it is almost endearing.
Stealing bases when nobody is watching can get you into the Hall of Fame, for sure. But I’m talking about real cheating. Knowingly violating the rules of the game to gain some perceived advantage– which, in baseball’s long history, takes on many forms and variations. And some are more compelling than others. Like George Brett and his pine tar bat, for example, producing one of the modern game’s most dramatic and memorable highlights. Or the notorious spit ball. Or Phil Niekro slipping a fingernail file into his hat so he could scratch out a better knuckleball. Or corking the bats.
But then there are the extremes. Pete Rose bet on his own team. In 1919 the Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to intentionally blow the World Series. And more recently, there are regular accusations and suspicions about players juicing.
Baseball is America’s game. And so is the cheating that goes on that makes baseball baseball.
And so it was fascinating to watch the shockwaves ripple across the nation when one of our preeminent superintendents and a fistful of teachers were all indicted for their elaborate scheme to doctor their students’ test results.
The horror. The scandal. The betrayal. This is public education, for God’s sake. Not baseball!
But for those of us who work in schools everyday, it should not be surprising at all that educators went to such unethical extremes to gain an advantage. When you threaten people with their jobs, their livelihood, their professional careers… they become resourceful. Welcome to the legacy of No Child Left Behind. High stakes testing is when you have everything to lose and nothing to gain. When a system that we KNOW is bad for kids is treated as if it is worthy of our outrage when it is violated.
But the real question we ought to answer is this: What exactly is “cheating” when it comes to testing our kids? When do we cross the line from stealing the catcher’s signs or corking the bats– to intentionally losing the World Series on a bribe?
This week, for example, I discovered the extreme degree to which many of the schools in my district are engaging in test prep with only three weeks remaining until the California Standards Test. Test prep includes practicing sample test items and drilling in the strategies for how to select a correct answer in a multiple choice item. The entire school throws out the rest of the curriculum and locks in on a single imperative. All day. Every day. It’s legal. Even encouraged with a wink– because it can definitely inflate results.
But it’s not good teaching. It’s not good for our kids. It doesn’t advance learning. It doesn’t promote thinking or collaboration or communication or entrepreneurialism or any of the other 21st century skills that will soon be treated as the coin of the realm when the Common Core is ushered in. In fact, devoting any more time at all to the various state assessment packages that are now all but obsolete… seems to be the worst form of cheating. It’s cheating our students of their time for authentic learning. Wasted days and weeks and months in pursuit of a mission that has nothing to do with our children’s future.
So ok… “test prep strategies “are not quite the same as calling for pizzas as you hunker down and change all of your students’ test booklets to reflect correct answers… but it’s still a hoax to pretend high test scores mean our kids are actually learning.
Professional baseball is intensely competitive and the rewards are great for those few who excel in it. So great in fact, that it creates a climate where cheating is inevitable. But the game is pure and it will survive the scandal.
Educators, on the other hand, are typically driven by an instinct for service and advocacy. Teaching a child is its own honest reward. But NCLB was never designed to promote performance as much as to punish the status quo. It wasn’t really intended for teachers to improve instruction or close the achievement gap among our children- as much as it was for politicians to quantify their competing ideologies about what they believe matters in our schools.
Atlanta reminds us that we’ve lost our soul as a profession–and as a nation– not because of cheating scandals, but because we legislated the game away.