Sustainability

Sustainability

As you may know, I spent the weekend on the East Coast hanging out at Cooperstown and then all over Boston.  It was a good weekend, and yes, I did have some time to check in on the Cubs and our World Series Dreaming community.  Big ups to the rest of Team WSD for keeping it rolling.

Catching up as I made my way to Logan Airport for the flight home (it was late and the flight was in the morning, so yeah, camping at the airport, yay), I noticed that the Art Institute of Chicago had commissioned a new masterpiece:

Gotta look closer...

Gotta look closer...

Upon closer inspection, it looked like this:

AndyCommentPainting

This is a classic, a revelation when it was first painted on the canvas of the internet and will be a topic of discussion for scholars and social media art lovers for years to come.  I'm not going to belabor the point but it stems from the artist Andy's article on our mother ship and this ensuing comments thread.  I had more important and fun things to worry about than the comments so kudos to everyone who sustained it for so long.

Speaking of sustainability, that is the problem we're talking about here as it relates to the Cubs.  The divide is always in how to go about that plan.  Some folks would rather just blow it all for a shot in the dark, while others would prefer a sustained run of success.  Neither, as you might surmise, is a guarantee, as there are no guarantees in baseball.  The only guarantee in baseball is that at some point, 27 outs will be made, and all players will see their careers end.  That's it.  No single move, or set of moves, can guarantee a championship.  But what they can hope to do is to improve the odds.  The odds of winning a championship given finite resources is to build a team that can contend for many years in succession, not just one or two and done.  I believe the Cubs have done that and you can check our archives for all those blogs.

The complaint (somewhat mockingly) is that we write about the same stuff in regards to why the Cubs had to rebuild.  The quick retort is that people don't always read our stuff carefully, so we have to repeat ourselves.  The more elaborate reason is that people generally have their minds made up and this is our effort to attempt to change some of those minds and eliminate false narratives.  Of course we all want the Cubs to win.  The fallacy is in thinking that just spending in free agency will generate success, or that only focusing on prospects will do the same.  A further fallacy which Andy pointed out (and you should read the article linked above) is that teams can't effectively do both at the same time anymore UNLESS they are already healthy organizations to begin with.  It is not difficult to observe that the Cubs were not a healthy organization before the reins were handed to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

I liken this to teaching.  There are some things that are more important to me than baseball (strange, I know) and one of them is the education of underserved youth, which is magnified in the context of what's going on down in Ferguson right now.  Our job isn't just to teach, but to mold confident, intelligent, honest and capable young men who will reverse the trend of poor achievement and abnormally high incarceration of African-American males.  It's a far cry from turning around a struggling baseball team, and I do take it seriously.  But there are parallels.

You see, I had to build an Advanced Placement program from the ground up.  The previous attempts to sustain the AP science courses failed because of disorganization and just the quick surrender by prior teachers because "the kids weren't ready."  I decided that was a defeatist attitude and went into this with a plan and a philosophy.  The philosophy was that the students would be challenged and that I would never settle for mediocrity even when the product would take a while to build.  The plan was to determine exactly what the students would have to know in order to pass the AP examinations in May, and stick to a schedule and to my policies.  It was incredibly difficult to keep at it, through all the complaints that the material was hard, that they'd never learn it all, all the while having to deal with bureaucracy, lack of resources, parents, etc.  But we survived the first year, and despite not having any students pass the class, I could at least see some improvement in their study habits, in their confidence, in their ability to process and understand high-level material and their growth as students.

This summer, I decided that the way science was being done at the school was not good enough and that we would need to do more to build up our students and to overcome their deficiencies.  So I set up a system to let kids enter an honors track that would better prepare them for AP science as upperclassmen.  I got in touch with the academic coordinators to implement a pre-academic year science course to get kids up to speed on the basics, like the scientific method and how to read/draw graphs and tables.  I worked closely with the department to make sure we knew which students deserved to be promoted via the honors track and to increase rigor across all courses.  And I went across a bunch of labs on the campus of my alma mater to ensure that we could get more resources for the students to learn laboratory science since we had to work with a budget and do more with less.

If all of this sounds familiar to you, then I think you understand what the Cubs are up to and you can appreciate the effort and the planning that goes into sustainability.  It's not like I can just import a bunch of smart kids from other schools and boost our test scores that way; what happens to the kids who start out in the system?  They still need to be developed too.  And it helps with the culture and climate of the school to have most of the kids grow academically and socially with each other.  I like my metaphor very much.  Is it guaranteed to produce qualifying scores on the AP exams or high ACT scores? Of course not.  But the steps we are taking are going to get the odds more in our favor, and that's what matters.  Ultimately the rewards for us and the students we serve will very likely be worth the effort we put in.  There are no guarantees in baseball or in life in general, but it makes sense to always shift the needle towards success.

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  • Since you are dealing in analogies, why don't these hold:

    The way to increase test scores in your school is to get rid of all the current students and send them to reform school. That's essentially the argument made against charter schools (but this isn't the district299 blog). In effect, since current Cubs management considers ML players to be assets to be flipped (including Jeff, traded basically because management didn't want to pay what was asked), how is that any different?

    And if you traded off the students already in the system, what makes one think that the ones still in elementary school are going to expect any teamwork, which requires some degree of loyalty?

    That seems to coalesce my objection to modern sports, in general. There may be Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, etc. owners and stadia, but the owners and players are reduced to being mercenaries, instead of producing a team. It is slightly different here in hockey, as management recognizes it has to build a team around Toews and Kane, which prior management drafted and developed. It is only different in basketball in that the mercenaries who control the system are certain players.But as far as a "Chicago team" there is nothing on the pro level that is as "Chicago" as Simeon or Mt. Carmel.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks for yet another interesting and thoughtful comment!

    I think we can't use the school and MLB/pro sports as direct analogies, essentially because of what you alluded to in that pro athletes don't exactly get a choice for a long time prior to free agency as to whom they play for. In public and private schools, students for the most part have a choice of which school they can go to (within geographical and certain selective guidelines) and also a choice whether to stay or drop out.

    As for the elementary school part of your analogy, this is something that seems to happen a lot in my experience, where by the time students get to me, they are already deficient in multiple skills and we have to play catch up in a hurry before they are off to college. In a way, it's like taking a once-bright prospect with tons of potential and working with him as a reclamation project.

    The hope is that by working to cultivate some "school spirit" through building confidence along with a stronger science program, we get the students to buy in and stay through to graduation. I guess you can use that to generate your own Cubs-centric analogy from there.

  • In reply to Rice Cube:

    Your second paragraph gives rise to the analogy that schools can't trade players. They tried when a coach went from Bolingbrook to Homewood-Flossmoor, but he got into trouble.

    Aside from my teamwork point, your elementary school one points out that while Theo said something about The Cubs Way throughout the system, I wonder if that works if there is trading for minor leaguers; we discussed earlier the dichotomy between how the position players and pitchers are treated.

  • In reply to jack:

    Haha, there's something just not right about trading kids. In essence, students have a right to transfer between schools freely, they're not being traded, so I don't think the analogy works strictly in that sense. This is certainly an interesting discussion though.

  • In reply to Rice Cube:

    The crux of the stink was that 6 or so of the "transferring students" lived at one address in Flossmoor, according to their records. How they all suddenly transferred from Bolingbrook was the question, although you are right that the coach didn't have the authority to trade them.

    I certainly don't know what the situation is with city schools, given that there aren't high schools, but "academies," and, of course, closed schools with "welcoming schools" that the students don't want to attend.

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