In New Haven, CT, a nine-year-old boy was just told he couldn’t play Little League baseball. His offense? League officials have determined that the boy is just too good. His team is 8-0. A pitcher, the boy throws a 40-mile-per-hour fastball (which for those unfamiliar with the game is just filthy good). It means most opposing players are unable to hit his pitches. He broke no rules; he did nothing wrong. In fact, he did it all right, performing as all of us former Little Leaguers wish we could. The result? The nine-year-old has been banished from the league, and his fellow teammates have been offered slots on the remaining teams in the league.
What does all this have to do with education reform, you may ask? Actually, a great deal. Let’s first look at the message we are sending children. After a decade of soccer games where do don’t keep score, trophies for all kids who participate, and the elimination of games like dodgeball because they make some kids feel bad about themselves, we are now ostracizing students for excelling. We are telling them that the goal is mediocrity. Better to remain in the pack rather than strive to be the leader.
It is hard enough to be a student in today’s world. If we believe media reports, peer pressure, bullying, and the like are far worse today than they were when Eduflack was a kid. We hear tales of students who downplay their intellect and are ashamed of their achievement, fearful of the repercussions on the playground or in the neighborhood. And now they have to worry about attacks and dismissal from the adults that were trusted to teach them and further develop their skills? League officials should celebrate this kid for being an all-star and achieving at levels of kids two, three, or four years older than the one in question.
It is no wonder we have such a difficult time encouraging, supporting, and demanding improved student achievement. We don’t focus on those schools that regularly make AYP. Instead, we come up with excuses as to why so many schools are failing to excel. Instead of offering incentives to ensure that the very best teachers are in DC classrooms, we accuse the DCPS chancellor or racism, sexism, ageism, and any other ism we can think of. Instead of ensuring all U.S. schools are world class, and can compete with our international colleagues, we turn a blind eye to how our lax U.S. national standards measure up to other industrialized nations. Instead of striving to continue to offer the best public education available in the free world and a system of meritocracy, we are content with status quo and a life of mediocrity.
Sure, this is a lot to deduce from a Little League pitcher. But look at the past two weeks. We celebrated U.S. performances in the Olympic Games, cheering the fact the United States won more medals than any other nation. But how much attention did educators pay to the educational olympics offered by the Fordham Foundation, which show our standing slipping in critical academic areas?
We should be asking ourselves how we get out kids to throw lights-out when it comes to algebra II or chemistry, Spanish or world history. We should be encouraging STEM education in the elementary grades and advanced-level courses at the start of high school. We should be asking how we can get every kid excelling academically — exceeding expectations and grade-level requirements.