Friday, October 23, 2015

Another Baseball Season Short of the World Series, But What a Season it Was

I've had a few days to decompress after the disappointing Cubs loss in the NLCS.  As a Cubs fan I'm used to ending a season disappointed, but this year the disappointment is tempered with something new, something exciting... expectation of next year.  It's not the normal "Wait til next year." mantra either.  I'm genuinely excited about next season.

To explain, you have to go back to December of 2014.  The setting was an offseason after a dismal 73-89 2014 season that put the Cubs securely in last place in the NL Central.  But on December 13th, the Cubs story started to change when they signed Jon Lester.  This coupled with the October surprise signing of Joe Maddon as manager was a signal to Cubs fans.  The pieces are finally coming together, the waiting is over and we will WIN.  Still at this point most fans were hoping for a winning season and hopefully to be in the playoff race, but beyond that was... well still a dream.

This year soon became different though.  Although the opening home stand was a bit of a disappointment both on the field and in the not quite ready for primetime Wrigley Field that was still very much under construction, the season quickly turned hopeful.  Young talent kept popping up to the majors and impressing.  Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell to name a few.  Wow we were winning and the Cubbies had that swagger back that they expected to win.  It was fun to watch.  Then the second half started and we went from being a .500 team to a team on a mission only losing 19 games.  Although we couldn't catch up to the equally hot Cardinals and Pirates, we made the Wild Card playoff game.  We had a chance.

At this point things were just going right for the Cubs.  Plays that in previous years would have spelled doom were being made.  As a fan, it was a bit scary.  Talk of black cats, goats, and Bartman were often squelched in fears of bringing up demons of the past.  This was when I started to believe that it really could be possible for the Cubs to get to the World Series and even win it.  Something that neither of my Cub fan grandfathers ever got to see in their lifetime.  The last time the Cubs even played in a World Series Grandpa Viola was somewhere in the South Pacific in the Army waiting for orders home. and Grandpa Story was working to support his family back in the states.  I'll never forget watching Cubs games with Grandpa Viola listening to Harry Carray and Steve Stone calling the games on WGN.  Rooting for any other team never crossed my mind.

One game, do or die, oh boy oh boy.  Talk about a lot of emotions going into the sudden death wild card playoff game with Pittsburgh.  I literally had my Crown and Coke ready at game time and was nervous at every pitch until the 27th out was made.  When the dust settled it sunk in that the Cubs had won again and were going to play the Cardinals, the arch nemisis, in a best of 5 NLDS.

At this point my thought was beat the Cardinals, the fact it was the NLDS was just icing.  This was a dream series along I-55 with Springfield being just about ground zero for the war that was about to ensue.  Losing game one made me start looking for goats and cats again, but the Cubs came back and won the rest of the games to win.  The Cubs beat the perennial October favorites!  At this point you probably could have told me that Joe Maddon was walking on water and I would have believed you.

Then it was the NLCS against the Mets.  Praying as hard as Cub fans can pray we were still no match for the Mets this year.  They played every aspect of the game flawlessly for four straight games.  It wasn't a complete loss though, through the heart break I reconnected with old Cub fan buddies, made new friends and we got to see the future.  The Cubs team is GOOD and with a few tweaks and experience next year's team is going to be Great.  Sorry Cubbies, but next year a winning record won't cut it, nothing short of making it to the NLCS will be even close.  Hopefully next year the Cubs will be having a hell of a party in October.  Oh and Cardinals fans... next year we're gunning for first in the division too.

Spring training can't come too soon...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Common Core

With a wife that is a teacher, I hear a lot about the Common Core standards.  I've also been hearing a lot about the Common Core from the media, politicians, and my Facebook friends. What I end up seeing is that most people have no clue as to what the Common Core really entails.

Most parents seem to have confused Common Core standards with curriculum designed (at least supposedly designed) to help students meet those standards.  For example, one of the fourth grade math common core standards is
Solve multistep word problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers using the four operations, including problems in which remainders must be interpreted. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding.
 Nowhere in the above statement is it dictated to the teacher how to teach anything.  It just states what the student should be able to do by the end of fourth grade.  Think of it like the set of requirements in a Boy Scout or Girl Scout handbook for a certain rank.  Distilled to the main point, this is what the Common Core standard is all about.  It sets goals for each grade level.

Unfortunately most of what is touted by the talking heads on TV and shared on Facebook as Common Core, actually deals with curriculum and not the standards.  Curriculum is usually set by the local school district or sometimes the state.  Because of their size, California and Texas has a tendency to push the direction the US goes on curriculum because the textbook vendors cater to the largest customers.  As you can see above, the standards don't say HOW to teach a subject, just what the expected outcome should be.  

For example, today on the radio, one of the talk radio hosts was ranting because his daughter had been taught three ways to do subtraction and one of them was confusing her.  The particular method that she was struggling with was subtraction by addition or "method of complements".  The idea behind this method is to make mental math easier.  One example of this method in every day life is a skill that a lot of people no longer have because of cash registers.... how to count back change.  

The bottom line is that a common set of goals for every student in the United States is NOT a bad thing.  In fact goals are good things and give us a way to quantitatively evaluate educational policies such as curriculum.  Unfortunately text book writers and local curriculum directors have used the Common Core as an excuse to try new methodologies as experiments on our students.  Hopefully over time the failed curriculum choices made will be phased out.  In the mean time, don't vilify the teachers for teaching what they're told to teach by their management.  Instead educate yourself on the curriculum and the standards and lobby your school board and administration to make needed changes so that every student in every school in the United States can excel.