Commonsense and Common Courage

 It was 1963. I was 16 and a sophomore trying to make the Semmes High School baseball team. Ronnie Flippo, last year’s starting catcher, decided that he was not going to play his senior season. That left the team with no catchers – experienced or otherwise. None. Zip. Zero. I had played catcher a few times in middle school.

Coach Mosely asked if anybody had played the position before, I raised my hand, and as they say, the rest is history! My first game as a varsity catcher was against Citronelle High School. Our pitcher was a crafty old senior, Carlton Belcase, so he made my job a lot easier than it might have been otherwise. It was the last inning and the score was tied at 2-2 with two out and a man on third base. I signaled for a fastball and Carton agreed..

Normally, with men on base, the pitcher goes into his stretch to hold men on base. However, the baseball gurus declared, then and now, that it was OK to wind up if there was a man on third and no one on first. The reasoning being that it is 90 feet between bases, but only 60 feet 6 inches between the pitcher and home, and only a harebrained player, or a very, very, very fast one tries to steal home. I think the Citronelle player on third was in the former category, because when Carlton started his windup, I saw in the corner of my left eye a huge player in maroon and gold barreling down on me. Somehow, Citronelle had gotten wind that there was a untested, baby-faced rookie sitting on his haunches behind home plate

Carlton had a good fastball and on that pitch, it was hard and true and straight. The left-handed batter swung and missed just to distract me, and it almost worked. Just as he swung, Carton’s fastball stung my mitt, and there I was, all 135 pounds of me, looking down the third base line as a freight train at full speed barreled down on me. I had maybe a second to get ready. It is amazing what a 16 year-old can think about in a second – mama, God, squirrel hunting, proms, girls – but I readied myself on my knees and clutched Carlton’s fastball in my catcher’s mitt with both hands and all the strength a scrawny 16 year-old could muster. Onward the runner came. Seeing that I was blocking the plate, he saw that he could not slide and get around me – if that was ever his intent – and so he just bull-rushed me. Knocked me flat. But when the dust and my head cleared, I heard the ump shouting, “He’s oouutt!” The game was over; our team mobbed me;  and little did I know that this would be the most remembered highlight of my baseball career.

When the season was over, I had earned my first varsity letter – a very big accomplishment in those days for a sophomore from the tiny town of Wilmer, Alabama. Back then you had to play a significant number of innings to earn a letter, and you could be on the team and not earn one. Today, every sophomore who goes out for a team gets a letter. Every T-baller gets a trophy. First graders are rewarded for normal behavior by going to the treasure chest on Fridays, and academic grades are so inflated, that they, like the T-ball trophies, are practically meaningless.

Grades should reflect our best efforts at accurately reflecting the actual learning of our students. Extra credit does the opposite. Giving extra opportunities to take an exam just to raise a grade from a B to an A has the same effect. But this need not be the case. Can we get back to days when a C meant gradelevel work. Not likely. Those days are gone never to return. But we can make sure that a B represents proficient work and that an A truly represents distinguished work. How? Commonsense, common courage, and some decent sized cajones. More on these in bit.

Commonsense, as most of us know, is not very common these days. Actually, commonsense is usually built on profound knowledge which also seems in short supply. It is beyond professional logic to think that it is OK give a student a grade by allowing extra points. Teachers don’t give grades; students earn them by demonstrating mastery of content and skills. Once mastery is demonstrated, any additional points added to the grade are being given, not earned. We must quit giving points only designed to raise grades to keep students and parents happy.

Common courage  is the trait that profoundly knowledgeable teachers and leaders possess in great quantity. When there is a decision to be made that has both a right answer and a politically correct answer, people of common courage only have one response.  The right one. Never the convenient one.

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