Not long ago, I was watching television on a Saturday afternoon when I should have been mowing the lawn. I was scanning the channels and ended up watching a few moments of a baseball game. I usually don’t watch baseball on television, but something caught my eye. The batter had just hit a long fly ball that was surely a home run. However, just before the ball sailed over the wall into the stands, the fielder leaped and caught it on the fly. What a catch! The home team crowd went wild.
As the camera stayed on the fielder, an interesting scene unfolded. There were two boys in the stands, both with gloves. The stands were mostly empty in that area except for these two young fans. The fielder walked toward the boys, who were both holding out their gloves, wanting that prize ball. One was in the first row; the other in the second row. As the fielder got closer, both boys held out those gloves, waiting for him to pitch the ball to them. He walked right up to the stands within inches of the boy in the first row. He then motioned to the boy in the second row, who then hurriedly ran to the railing. The fielder dropped the ball into the boy’s glove. He then turned back to his position on the field.
The boy with the ball held it high as he walked back to his seat directly behind the first boy. The announcers seized upon the opportunity to laud the player for his gracious act. The camera stayed on the scene while the announcers talked about the boy’s prize and the player’s gift. As I watched, though, my attention was drawn to the first boy, the one who was passed over. Since both boys were sitting in the same area, and the player on the field was also in the same general location, all three were in the camera shot. The cameraman wanted to get shots of the second boy (the one with the ball) and the player during the announcers’ comments. In fact, the camera shot back to the scene two more times before the commercial break. The problem was that each time the camera zoomed in, the first boy was also there. And, while the producers of the broadcast wanted the viewer to focus on the second boy and the player, my attention was solely drawn to the first boy.
It was obvious the boy was disappointed. But, as the scene continued, his disappointment turned to embarrassment. Finally, by the third shot, the boy slowly covered his face with his empty glove, hiding his tears from a national audience. As I watched, my heart broke for the kid. I don’t think it was the fact that he didn’t have the ball that hurt the most. I don’t think it was the fact that someone else was chosen over him that hurt the most. What hurt the most was that his being UN-chosen was being broadcast for everyone to see. The camera, so focused on the chosen kid with the ball and the terrific fielder who had made the kid’s day, was also letting everyone have a view to the first kid’s disappointment, sadness, and embarrassment. That glove, brought to the game to hold a baseball, instead was used to hide his face from all of us. One kid was going home with a ball in his glove and a story he would tell for the rest of his life. The other would go home with an empty glove and a memory that would hurt every time he thought of it.
As I watched, I got mad. Not at the player. How could I fault him? He didn’t do anything wrong. I couldn’t fault the second kid who received the ball. He was just being a kid. I was mad because I wanted both boys to have a ball. In fact, I thought the perfect ending to the story would be for someone at the game to go to the concession stand, buy a ball, find that boy, and give it to him. Or maybe the player could have asked for a second ball and trot over to the kid later. Either way, my one thought was this: give ‘em both a ball.
We have somewhat the same situation in our education systems. It is a truth that, no matter how much we trumpet our success, students are being left behind. It happens every day and every year. Our traditional mode of teaching, whether we call it the Five E Model or the Madelyn Hunter or something else, is based on a timed system that demands students keep up, stay with the pack, and learn it at the same pace as the brightest kids. If you can’t meet that demand, you get left behind. Too many kids left with empty gloves.
Here’s the saddest part: while we’re so busy focusing on the successful kids, the spotlight also shines on those who aren’t going to make it. No wonder so many of them drop out. It could just be their way of covering their face with the empty glove. Should we blame the teacher? I say no. They are hard-working people who do what they can. Should we blame the kid? Easy to do. We can simply say, “Well, they should have paid more attention. They should have applied themselves.” But, my friend, we need to stop blaming the kid.
Somebody needs to get up, go to the concession stand, and buy a ball for the kid. Somebody, not involved in the situation, needs to make sure that kid gets a ball before he goes home. In the course of my work, I interact with many traditional educators. A lot of them don’t like charter schools or anything that doesn’t “fit” their definition of ‘real’ education, but when I ask them why, they can’t seem to give a good reason. They just feel like it’s expected of them to not support anything outside the traditional system. There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there.
It’s simple: we’re educators who work with a lot of kids with empty gloves, just wanting to make sure they all go home with a ball. Is it perfect? No, because even in non-traditional systems, some students may still get left behind. It’s not perfect, but it’s needed. The charter school environment is vital for so many of our children. If you don’t believe me, just ask a kid who has found their place in one of these schools. I talk to them all the time. Believe me; they don’t seem too concerned about how they were given a ball, an opportunity, a chance to succeed. They just like the feeling of having that ball in their glove.