The day after, sans hangover

yanks250.jpgIT’S ABOUT TIME
It seems as if the Yankees have been waiting to clinch for about three months, but seven weeks, ever since the Yankees swept the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium from August 6 to August 9 and went up by 6.5 games. You can shave the Countdown to Coronation to just over a month if you choose August 23 as your starting date. Since August 9, the Yankees have gone 31-14 (.689); since the 23rd, they’ve gone 23-10 (.697). They’ve more than held up their end of the bargain, as even the 1927 Yankees would have had a hard time overtaking them given that level of success. Since August 9, the club has allowed 4.5 runs per game while scoring 5.9. If you discount Sergio Mitre’s starts, the team’s runs allowed in that stretch drops to about 3.2. That’s simply astounding, and given the level of the offense, borderline unfair. Since Mitre won’t come within sniffing distance of the mound in October, that’s the real measure of the offensive/defensive balance that opponents will face. Anything can happen in a short series (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), but the Yankees have to be considered the favorites at this point.

If you’re looking for a key stat, it’s this: the Yankees lead the American League in strikeouts per nine innings, something they haven’t done since 2001 (they finished a close second in 2002 and 2003, those squandered seasons). It’s not a foolproof formula (again, nothing is), but when confronted with a tough offense, as most postseason offenses are, the best thing a team can do to beat them is to get them to swing and miss. When the Royals make contact, the ball doesn’t go too far. When the Angels make contact, it leaps tall buildings. As such, it’s best to keep the bats and the balls from meeting as often as you can.

If the Tigers hold on to their division lead, the Yankees will actually confront a postseason team with a fairly mediocre offense, and that would represent the best of all worlds, regardless of the prowess of their pitching staff — said prowess possibly having been overstated. More on that when and if the Yankees face the Tigers. We’ll be doing the usual head-to-head, position-by-position rankings as soon as the Central race is decided.

HANGOVER
Joe Girardi’s day-after-clinching lineup has no Nick Swisher, no A-Rod, no Jeter, no Teixeira, and the opponent is the Royals. This game should be part of a two-for-one special–buy one ballgame and we’ll give you a pseudo-Yankees game for free. At least Robbie Cano is still in there. It would be something of a shock if he wasn’t. The last time he didn’t start was August 16. The last time he didn’t play was, I believe, on July 3, 1928, when Miller Huggins benched him against Rube Walberg in favor of Mike Gazella. Cano sulked for weeks and ultimately got into a fistfight with Leo Durocher, hastening the latter’s release. Since then, managers have been afraid to bench him, with the result that Cal Ripken, Jr. shattered his record for consecutive games played back in 1995, the record that, paradoxically, Cano is still building.

All of this will be explained in a future installment of “Robinson Crusoe Cano, Time-Tossed Traveler.”

MP3 OF THE MOMENT
Louis Armstrong, “Hobo, You Can’t Ride This Train.” Big hit for Satchmo in 1932.

THE TEACHERS AND ME (YOU NEVER PROMISED ME A SABATHIA SHIRT)
Last week I commented on the child who was forced by his teacher to reverse his Sabathia T-Shirt, and said, among other things, “Longtime readers know that I am no fan of the teaching profession.” This comment reaped the usual mix of responses, and I was prompted to go back and see what I had said here in the past. I first raised the topic in an off-hand remark on Don Mattingly becoming a Yankees coach way back in 2003, and got the predictable firestorm of hostility. Here was my answer then:

The most controversial comment in last week’s PB was this one from the discussion of Don Mattingly as hitting coach: “My own educational experience, which I assume to be typical, is that the ratio of good teachers to mediocrities hacking it out for a paycheck is approximately one out of ten.” Some correspondents thought I had nailed the pedagogical profession while others thought I was being grossly unfair.

The qualifiers offered above were meant to indicate that the statement was entirely subjective. That being said, I feel safe extrapolating from my own experience for this reason: I grew up in a prosperous, middle-class suburban town, one whose school district benefited from an inordinate amount of financial and emotional support from the community. It is considered one of the best in my state and has been cited as one of the best in the nation. And yet, it was terrible.

At six years old I encountered a teacher who was physically abusive (not to me, thank goodness, but to my classmates). Severe verbal abuse was commonplace. Female students were treated by male teachers in a patronizing, insulting manner that would be classified as sexual harassment today. I spent a year with one aged English teacher who was clearly senile–classes sometimes consisted of watching him stare silently at the ceiling–and yet he was allowed to remain. As for Mister Chips, John Keating, Albus Dumbledore–I never saw them. Even the few inspiring teachers I had were flawed. My one favorite, the only one I really admired and to whom I felt sincere gratitude, once, in a rage, attacked me with the blade from a pair of broken shears (long story). I just got away.

This was a good school district, a great school district, so I can barely imagine what an average one must be like, let alone a bad one.

I think back on those shears quite often, as the blade was whipped past my face, knife-thrower style, just missing what is now the eye I can see out of. Then again, it might not have blinded me, it might have just killed me. As I look back over this, I can think of so many details and stories that are left out of that very abbreviated telling, and I may write more about the story in another forum.

The topic came up again a couple of years later. At that time, I received many responses along the lines of those this weekend. Here’s one response along with my answer.

A word about educators. I want you to know that they’re not all bad. My cousin is a teacher in the NYC public school system. She teaches first and second grade. The majority of her students do not speak English at home. The problems she has dealt with include overcrowding, rodents in the classroom, children who are not properly bathed, etc. Many people, include those within my family have encouraged her to seek a position with a private school, where she would be better paid and work under better conditions. She told me something like, “I love these kids, I can’t leave them. Who would take care of them if I didn’t?” To me, she is a great hero! I am a product of a NYC public school education. And as I have moved and traveled extensively throughout the US, I have become more aware of the quality education I received in comparison to many, even private school educated people, in other parts of the country. Just wanted to get that off my chest. — Lis

Lis, I appreciate what you’re saying. I struggle with this all the time. I know generalizations are for dopes and bigotry is for the simpleminded, so for me to paint an entire profession as all good or all bad is weak. I have known good teachers, and I can think of one in particular that had a huge positive impact on my life. Yet, given my own experiences and observations, I do feel that educators like your cousin and the person I’m descri
bing are the exceptions that prove the rule. In fact, the teacher I just mentioned is no longer a teacher, having found, after a long career, that the harassment that came with being good at his job was just too much to take. Perhaps this is true of most professions; one individual excels, all the mediocrities below him try to pull him down. Or perhaps I’m cynical.

The “one in particular” noted above is the same guy that hurled half a scissors at my head. I must have been in a forgiving mood. At the time this response appeared, my oldest child was just starting school, so I had nothing to work with except my own experience. Said child is now well into elementary school, and she has had one or two encounters that have rivaled my own, though no blades were thrown. I don’t want to violate her privacy at this time by writing about what she has gone through in specific terms, since at her age I can’t ask her for her permission in a way that’s really fair. What I can say is that I’m in there fighting for her, because I will not let her be terrorized the way I was.

All I can say is that I’m sorry and I’m not sorry. I’m sorry I hold this particular view, because as I said above I recognize that it is not wholly fair, but I’m not sorry because I am justifiably bitter and will remain bitter for the rest of my life. I love learning. I like being challenged to pick up new things. I’m like that now and I was like that as a child. Then I saw six-year-olds hauled out of chairs and thrown to the floor, or I was repeatedly brought up before a class, harangued, and called stupid because of some perceived offense like poor penmanship. I fondly recall the elementary school gym teacher who called me “[reproductive gerund] useless” in front of my class because I couldn’t do X number of chin-ups one day, or the junior high school English teacher with whom, because of a little classroom disagreement, called my father and told him I was in danger of failing out of school–you can imagine how my father let me have it when I got home–a story she invented out of whole cloth (this incident damaged by relationship with my father for years), or the high school teacher who admitted I knew more about history than he did but was going to fail me anyway. Where I was at first eager, I became afraid, then angry, then resentful, and pretty much turned off until college. I am admittedly biased, and yet I have seen what I have seen. I have seen my education and my daughter’s. I am working against a confirmation bias, but it can’t be helped.

Are there great teachers? Sure. I don’t deny their existence and never have. Do I think they’re anything like in the majority? No. Do our educational statistics bear out that they are anything like in the majority? No (that’s not letting the parents off the hook, of course). I have had friends who have become teachers, but only after failing at some other profession. I had friends in college who became teachers, but only after failing at some other major. Again, these are very narrow slices of information and seen the way I want to see them. I admit that. My anger overcomes that rationality. As a victim of a kind of abuse, what I most want is to run into one of those by-now ancient men or women and be able to say, “Scream at me now! Call me stupid now!” I want to say now what I didn’t have the power to say then. Once I’ve gotten that out of my system, I might be more able to hear arguments about this prejudice, the only one I permit myself.

In closing, to all you great teachers out there, to all of you who are proud relatives of great teachers, I apologize and would very much like to know what it is that makes you different. As for the rest of you, my wish for you is that you find another line of work… But before you do, please join that Yankees-hating teacher on the concourse outside of the Stadium, starting an hour before the first game of the ALCS. Tell everyone who comes by wearing a Sabathia shirt, or better yet a Jeter shirt, to cover it up or else. I promise I’ll send flowers.

MORE OF ME
On Tuesday at 1 PM EST, I’ll be fielding your questions live at Baseball Prospectus. As always, if you can’t tune in and participate at the starting time, you can post your questions in advance here.

10 Comments

Steven–
Thanks for your considered response and personal candor about this topic. In your response, there seem to be a few different types of criticisms about teachers that might be worth separating.
One, the gravest perhaps, pertains to abusive teachers. You seem to have had a particularly unfortunate experience in this regard, and your anger is more than understandable. Anecdotally, I have never witnessed, growing up in outer borough NYC public schools, a teacher do anything that even comes close to what you describe. As has been said, abusive behavior exists in every profession, and is, more than likely, no more common in teaching than elsewhere. Simply put, I don’t think abusive behavior is a systemic problem in teaching, and, anecdotally, I’d make the assumption that abuse of all kinds, subtle or unsubtle, is much less tolerated in today’s educational climate than it probably was in the past, in the same way that corporate America is nowadays more sensitive to subtle and unsubtle instances of gender and racial discrimination (which isn’t to say that either situation is 100% ameliorated or perfect).
The other criticism, which is a whole other can of worms, pertains to the quality/aptitude, or lack thereof, of teachers, the perception, which you reiterate towards the end of your post, that those who can’t do, teach. I do think there’s a grain of truth in this perception, but it slights the numerous teachers who went into the profession, or stayed there, because of a genuine love of teaching and learning, and it also slights those who can do and yet still teach.
As a college professor, I have encountered numerous colleagues/mentors who fall into that latter category. Part of what makes the great ones great, I think, is that they combine a genuine enthusiasm for learning and for the subject with a deep, often profound, expertise. Personality doesn’t hurt, either. There are plenty of professors who are terrible, of course, for a variety of reasons, and college teaching is kind of a whole other animal than K-12 teaching, but I do think that the good professors provide insight into some of the key qualities for a successful teacher. And I’d also add that teaching is an enterprise that, on a number of different levels, has to do with one’s ethical core: which is another way of saying that it’s a demanding profession, if you’re doing it right, and an unforgiving profession even if you’re a saint.

I went to school at a good Westchester high school and I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about, Steven. I never encountered anything even vaguely reminiscent of what you describe, nor have I ever had a friend or acquaintance describe anything like it. I’ve seen bad teachers – bad, usually, because they were inattentive or unconvincing, but nothing worse than that.
I really think you might want to reconsider whether your basis for justifying the generalization of your personal experience is really sufficient.

Wow. I just wanted to say “prophetic on Cano”, but your teacher passages make the Yankees seem less important at the moment.
I was fortunate to go to attend one of the best schools in the city; and I can tell you there were some lousy teachers there. Looking back, I can’t tell for sure how they were allowed in the building – maybe, like so many others in different professions, they played the game well enough to fool someone into hiring them. I can say with some degree of happiness and relief, that most of the bad ones didn’t last very long. I can also say that some of the most influential people in my life were teachers from the very same school; some have shaped me and given me pride in who I am. I’m truly saddened by bad teachers. My own child was in a public school for a year, but it was so bad, we had to get him out. Hopefully, his story will have a happy ending; my favorite teacher is at his school and with luck, my children will also be his students.
Keep up what you do Steve. You get yelled at a lot for being critical, but you’ve highlighted some key problems over the years and that’s what keeps us reading.

I don’t think any commenters were asking you for an apology. We were just pointing out your faulty logic. In response you bring us more faulty logic.

“Are there great teachers? Sure. I don’t deny their existence and never have. Do I think they’re anything like in the majority? No.”

This is a non-point. By definition, the majority in any field will never be great. Greatness, depending on your interpretation of the word, is reserved for somewhere between .1% and 10%. It’s an extraordinary state. This is why there are dozens of Lee Guettermans and Wayne Tollesons for every player immortalized in the Hall of Fame.

There are 3 million teachers in America. If you are looking for widespread greatness from any group that large, you are bound to be disappointed.

I suspected a degree of latent intellectual snobbery in your previous column. You have confirmed my suspicion with this one. Your point that teaching is a commonly a secondary career option, particularly for elite students, is well-founded. The teaching profession is primarily populated with people from the intellectual middleweight through cruiserweight divisions. However, I am not at all convinced that brilliant people make brilliant teachers. In much the same way that the preternaturally gifted Ted Williams couldn’t coach players with lesser talent, many of the brightest teachers struggle to relate to the average student.

The “those who can’t do…” cliche is often somewhat true. But I suspect that if you were capable of playing baseball, you probably wouldn’t be writing about it. This doesn’t make you any worse at your job.

I cannot personally relate to the litany of miserable experiences you have had with teachers. In fact, I have never heard anything like it. Though I have experienced a series of traumatic incidents with a different group. In 5th grade, my friend and I had our bicycles stolen by high school aged black kids. In middle school, I was so terrorized (physically and emotionally) by black kids on the late bus after school that I nearly quit the baseball team. In high school, a black kid sat behind me in English class and made a sport out of jabbing his thumbs into my ribs whenever the teacher turned around. In college, I lived in a mostly black neighborhood and had my car broken into and the front of my apartment routinely pelted with glass bottles. Had you lived my life, I wonder if you would have become a racist and justified it to yourself based upon these experiences. Perhaps you would think “I’m sure there are some terrific black people. I know 1 or 2 who aren’t that bad. But most of them are awful.”

I really don’t get why this issue has so much steam here in the comments. It’s his blog. Blogs are for opinions. My MOTHER, the woman who raised me, is a teacher and I don’t take offense to anything Mr. Goldman said. Having never been a student of hers, I hope my mother is in the minority and I certainly hope she is one of the special teachers because she’s in kindergarten. Those are very young and impressionable children. I hope Mr. Goldman’s daughter has better experiences as she progresses through school. I wish her all the luck in the world.

Blogs ARE for opinions. The comment sections of blogs are as well.

Steve,
Hi. Long time no chat. I’m glad to have stopped in and read this column, after a lengthy absence, as it has finally given me an understanding as to how you arrived at your so very negative attitude towards life in general.
I have seen both ends of the spectrum, when it comes to teachers. I attended a Catholic elementary school in Brooklyn. I had lay teachers in 5th, 6th, and 7th grades, who were flat out spectacular. I stayed friends with one of them for years afterwards. However, when my oldest brother was in 6th grade there (the year before I entered kindergarten), he had a Franciscan brother for a teacher, who was a true, demented sadist. Physical discipline is one thing. I have spanked my own kids before, and they were better for it. This guy once ordered my brother to write “I will not talk in class,” 5,000 times. Yes, 5,000, not 500. When Johnny was done, days later, and turned it in, the teacher took one look at all of the sheets of paper, tore them to little pieces in front of the class – then gave Johnny a very hard slap across his temple, hard enough to leave a bruise, for his “poor penmanship.” Johnny was only one example of this guy’s emotional and physical abuse towards children. It only stopped when my father came home from work, and saw Johnny’s bruise. He got the story out of him. The next day he left work early, so he could be outside the school when the teacher came out. Once he confirmed that it was the correct teacher, he grabbed him by his throat, and bounced the back of his head repeatedly off the school building, telling him with each hit “touch-my-son-again-and-I-will-kill-you.” After the teacher regained conciousness, he requested a transfer.
I also went to a high school, Regis, which is run by Jesuits, but had almost all lay teachers. On that entire staff, there was one bad teacher (a Jesuit, who the Jesuits got rid of), a very good rookie, and one mediocrity. The rest were superstars.
As I have raised my own children, I have taught them the following attitude: no teacher is automatically entitled to your respect, just because they are your teacher. They should earn it, through the quality of their teaching, and through how they treat you as a human being. Once they have proven that they deserve it, if you don’t then treat them with respect, I will have your ***.

DeSalesMan

“…it has finally given me an understanding as to how you arrived at your so very negative attitude towards life in general.”

Funny. I’ve rarely found Mr. Goldman’s articles, let alone his attitude towards life, to be negative at all. Perhaps a little too realistic and lacking in Panglossian sentimentality for some, but I find that refreshing.

“I have spanked my own kids before, and they were better for it.”

I’ve never spanked mine and they’re both in high school now. A missed opportunity for their improvement, I guess.

Wow, Steve. I still disagree. Your personal experiences mirror my own (sans near deadly incident). I have had mostly good teachers, very few truly bad ones. Just because you’ve had mostly bad experiences with teachers doesn’t mean that bad teachers are the norm, just that you were unlucky.

By mirror, I mean reflect in reverse, obviously. Not mirror as in they were the same.

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