Back seven or eight years ago, I picked up a book called Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. It focused on the the Oakland Athletics and the team’s general manager, Billy Beane. Burdened by a lack of funds, Beane was struggling to win games against teams with way more money to pay players. But by 2002, during a season that saw his team set a century old record for consecutive wins, Beane had found a way.
Sabermetrics. The application of statistical analysis in order to evaluate and compare the performance of individual players. But not the traditional statistics. Beane and the A’s looked at a different set of statistics in ways that hadn’t been done before. This different way of thinking about baseball gave them a competitive advantage – they could find solid players that had been ignored by everyone else and so pay them less.
Win / win. A sweet team for less money.
Nobody thought it would work. The traditional way of doing things – described as “The Book” by Lewis – said it couldn’t work. Because that’s just not how you manage, coach, and play the game. But it did work. The A’s went on to become one of the most successful baseball teams of the decade, winning more games with less money. Beane and the A’s changed baseball.
But it wasn’t easy for Beane and those who believed in him. During a scene in the 2011 movie adaptation, Beane was told:
I know you’re taking it in the teeth out there. But the first guy through the wall, he always gets bloodied. Always. This is threatening, not just the way of doing business, but in their minds, it’s threatening the game.
Long story to get to social studies, I know. But I think social studies right now is in the same place Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s were back in 2001. We’re stuck in the past. Doing things the same way we’ve always done them. And struggling.
Because “The Book” says we should. Because the state assessment focused on content and multiple choice. Because we’ve always lectured. Because we have pretty textbooks that we feel obligated to use. Because we don’t know anything different. Well . . just because.
But in the same earlier movie scene, Beane was told:
. . . anybody who’s not tearing down their team down right now, and rebuilding it using your model – they’re dinosaurs.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months having conversations with all sorts of people about the new Kansas state social studies standards. And I’m not sure I could have come up with a better sentence to describe the state of the discipline:
. . . any teacher that’s not re-thinking their curriculum and instructional design right now, and rebuilding it based on historical thinking skills and the inquiry model – they’re dinosaurs.
I try to be polite when I encounter teachers and admin types poo-poohing the new standards, when they say historical thinking processes are a fad, when they describe how effective their outdated strategies of 60 minute teacher-centered lectures and popcorn reading are with kids. They see this different way of doing social studies as an attack on the game.
But it will be hard from now on to not hear that Moneyball quote in my head.
. . . dinosaurs.
We are making progress. The pendulum is swinging back to research-based, brain-based methods that support the doing of history and social studies rather than rote memorization. And . . . we’ve just had the release of the the new C3 standards from the National Council for the Social Studies.
Years in the making and months behind schedule, the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: State Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History supports the concept of doing rather than memorizing. It’s an incredibly useful document for guiding and supporting the development of more detailed curriculum documents at the state and local levels. I especially like the Inquiry Arc that the writers have included as part of the document.
And while this is not Sabermetrics, focusing on process rather than simply concentrating on the short-term acquisition of foundational knowledge is transformative. It’s a different way to think about how we manage, coach, and play the game of history and social studies.
It’s Social Studiesball.
We’ll be talking more about Social Studiesball over the next few weeks. So hang around the park. Share your thoughts. Billy and I will be here.