The Parable of the Bambino

Babe Ruth’s home run record was going to fall sooner or later. Roger Maris broke Ruth’s 60-homer record in a single season with his 61st home run of the 1961 season. Hank Aaron broke Ruth’s career homer record of 714 in 1974 with his 715th career thing. Now those broken records have been surpassed.

Somehow, however, Ruth remains distinctive and immortal. Here’s why.

It was the fifth inning of the third game of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field with a 4-4 draw between the Yankees and the Cubs. Ruth had taken two strikes and the Chicago crowd roared as the Cubs dugout mocked him. The babe pointed to the flagpole behind midfield. On the next pitch, a curve ball, he hit it right where it pointed – an estimated 50 feet past the midfield fence at 440 feet.

Ruth made his gesture true. The Yankees swept the series in four games.

But the baby didn’t crawl out of the cradle to throw baseballs out of the park. He had the physical gifts, yes, but he took the time to learn the intricacies of the game and perfected his ability to terrorize pitchers on the mound 60 feet, six inches away. Maybe there’s a lesson for the governor from this, even if he is one basketball guy.

Youngkin, a Republican, won the 2021 governor’s race by positioning himself as a solution-oriented pragmatist, apart from the snarling nationalism that became his party’s hallmark during former President Donald Trump’s years in the White House.

He also chose the perfect wedge theme: public education. In particular, Youngkin pledged to make the concerns and prerogatives of parents a priority among those who set public school policy and the curriculum. After the pervasive pandemic disruptions of 2020-21 and the summer of 2020 post-George Floyd race riots Roadside murder caught on video by a white cop, Youngkin’s message resonated not only in Republican rural Virginia, but also among centrist suburban households that for years had been decidedly pro-Democrats.

He accused schools of giving students “Critical Race Theory‘, a college-level academic concept that every school department in Virginia denied. He sided with parents who objected to accommodations that schools made for transgender students and to books on mature subjects that were in school libraries or intended for student reading. He criticized the school district’s requirement that students wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus when they return to classrooms after months of distance learning.

On the afternoon of his inauguration, Youngkin opened fire on these issues in several of the eleven executive acts he signed. He proclaimed that “awakened” teaching was doomed and that teaching “inherently divisive concepts” would end once his appointments could take over the State Board of Education and promulgate new curriculum standards.

All of which His Excellency had an absolute right to do. Elections have consequences, and the victor takes the spoils. But a little humility and even more listening and learning is enough for a layman embarking on a minefield as important and complex as national education policy.

In the last two weeks when the mercury and Miscellaneous points of sale have reported, the governor’s education team has invaded public school policy with hastily drawn revisions to state history/social science policies and all the grace of an excited moose in an antique glassware boutique. It didn’t go well.

The backstory goes like this. Every seven years, the State Board of Education must update the minimum expectations for what public sector K-12 students should learn in documents known as learning standards. The cumbersome, lengthy process of updating history standards, begun during the administration of former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, resulted in a Tome with 402 pages that after Youngkin’s appointments took office, the board returned in August for further work to Chief of State Jillian Balow. This revision, led by an outside education consultant, was fair 53 pages.

When it was presented to the board last week, all hell broke loose. In a lengthy public input session during the nearly eight-hour meeting, the new draft of Cliff’s Notes was pilloried by teachers, parents, community groups and historians as “whitewashing” the story, glossing over the nation’s strained racial past and minimizing contributions and perspectives of marginalized and indigenous peoples (glossed over as “America’s first immigrants”) and communities of color.

Conservatives and supporters of parental rights warmed to the short version because it promoted the principles of the free market and limited government. But not even the Youngkin-friendly new board was on board.

According to that Washington Post, Andy Rotherham, appointed by Youngkin, moved to postpone the review of the new standards, noting apparent flaws on some historical issues, including the abolitionist movement. Two-term Democrat-appointed Anne Holton, daughter of a Republican governor and wife of a Democratic governor, called the rewrite “a disaster” in November. She also noted that President Ronald Reagan is mentioned six times in the new draft, but makes no mention of the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama.

“Where we sit today, we’re so far from an established process that I’m afraid we’ve – quite frankly as a board – lost our way in terms of steering what’s supposed to be going on,” Daniel Gecker, board President said during the meeting.

The Board of Directors has now commissioned Balow and the Ministry of Education to do this concerning– Revamping the last revision, restoring some content that fell out of the extensive August draft, correcting typos, omissions and inaccuracies, and creating a “crosswalk” document that compares and correlates competing drafts. (The post has already been published such a comparison.)

Since then, the countertemps have been escalating. A author of books on education, who had been a lecturer at the College of William & Mary, was as adamant about being called an expert who had been consulted on the latest draft standards, as she had been went to twitter to warn against litigation if the claim is not withdrawn and its very limited role clarified.

There is a serious need for comprehensive, accurate, and quality history education, in-depth studies of the society we share, and a basic education in American civics—how our democratic republic works. The latest SOL results show how far our students’ knowledge of these essential American disciplines has slipped.

The number of students who passed the SOL exams in history and social studies in the past school year has declined by 14% overall from pre-pandemic levels, with the decline being greater for marginalized and economically disadvantaged groups. In a nation founded on the premise of an informed, self-governing electorate, there is a clear urgency behind the task of restoring comprehensive, quality education to new generations.

Governor, gain at least a basic awareness of what you’re doing Not knowing before you start can save you a lot of embarrassment.

When the Bambino stood at the plate in Chicago 90 years ago, stared at the Cubs pitcher and brazenly pointed at the midfield flagpole, he had been there before and knew exactly what to do. The rest is baseball history.

But maybe some wisdom of basketball, and arguably its greatest practitioner, Bill Russell, would serve the governor best: “We have exceeded our authority to make decisions. Sometimes our choices have to reflect the reality of the outside world.”