Joshua & I took friends to see “Moneyball” tonight. In case you haven’t seen it, the movie is based on the true story of the Oakland Athletics, who, with the lowest payroll in major league baseball, put together a playoff-worthy team using a method devised by a man named Bill James. This method basically threw out a hundred years of ‘how things were done’ in baseball scouting and recruiting, and replaced it with a system that calculated baseball players’ statistics down to one vital thing: runs scored.
And of course, most of baseball hated it. When it worked & Oakland won 20 games in a row for an all time American League record, they said it was a fluke, and then when Oakland lost in the playoffs, they blamed the ‘faulty’ James system.
There is a scene near the end of the movie, when Oakland GM Billy Beane is in Boston, and the Red Sox are trying to get him to come and be their GM. The Red Sox owner was one of the few who believed in the James system and in fact hired Bill James to work with their organization. In his discussion with Beane, he said something that I missed the first time I saw this film about a month ago. He said that the reason most of baseball hated Bill James & his theory was that it went against everything they had always known. They saw it as a threat to the system, a threat to their jobs and a threat to baseball itself. Even in the face of proof that it worked, they would refuse to acknowledge its’ merits.
Tonight in the theater when I heard those lines, I realized that this is exactly what we are up against when it comes to beliefs about learning and education. Life learning is seen as ‘extreme’ and ‘radical’ because it goes against everything most people alive today have been taught about education. Millions of people in this country make their money directly or indirectly through compulsory education, so they see life learning as a threat to the system, to their jobs and to education itself. Even in the face of proof that life learning works (better than does compulsory schooling in many cases) they refuse to acknowledge its’ merits.
When a life learning child excels and succeeds, it is seen as a fluke; when they make a misstep or fail, it is blamed on this ‘radical experiment’ and the lack of ‘formal’ education.
In baseball, Boston proved that the James system worked and won their first World Series in 83 years by implementing it. In life learning, it will take more than a few years and few families; we are up against a bigger organization than Major League Baseball.
But I think we’re up to the challenge. (Or, if you prefer baseball-ese, ready to step up to the plate.) Anyone who goes against the system is seen as a radical. But we’re no more radical than a GM who decides that maybe the best way to have a winning team is to get the guys who get on base and score the most runs, rather than the ones who look the best or have the nicest swing.
If winning at life is the goal, then I think we life learning radicals are on the winning team.