One of my favorite baseball stories revolves around the two teams of Philadelphia. When modern Major League Baseball began the city of Philadelphia was represented by two teams: the American League Athletics and the National League Phillies. The then owner of the Athletics was Ben Shibe, and he was friends with New York Giants manager John McGraw. For who knows why, McGraw once publicly chided Shibe by saying that the Athletics were a white elephant. When the pair met in the 1905 World Series, Shibe presented McGraw with a stuffed elephant toy. They were friends, all was well. McGraw was only curiously half correct about the A’s … the A’s represented the American League in five of the first 11 World Series, winning three of them, an outstanding record of success. Yet, A’s manager (and later owner) Connie Mack was all about the Benjamins … he once publicly said that his model was to have a good first half of the season to attract fans and gate money, then trail off and miss the post-season. This way the gate stayed relatively high, but he didn’t have to give in to salary demands, and was quick to trade off talent to avoid the team getting too good. Mack made a fortune. Mack owned the stadium. His local competition was so awful (the Philadelphia Phillies) that they still have the worst overall record since 1901 of any of the original 16 Major League teams (the Phillies didn’t win their first World Series until 1980). Despite all of that, the A’s never seemed to fit in. Shibe adopted the “white elephant” moniker and by the second decade of the 20th century, the white elephant appeared on uniforms and sweaters for the team. Even today in Oakland, their cute mascot is named Stomper, and he is a white elephant.
Despite all of the success (did we mention the Phillies had to rent the A’s home stadium in Philadelphia, just to have a home park). After the 1954 season, the A’s picked up and moved to Kansas City. This came one year after the St. Louis Browns had left for Baltimore to become the Orioles, and just three years before the celebrated defections of the Giants and Dodgers to the west coast. Kansas City was not a welcome home for them, and after the 1967 season they moved to Oakland. Despite 6 AL championships and 4 World Series wins in 47 years (compared to 0 NL championships and 0 World Series wins for the Cubs in more than double that same time frame), there is just something not right. They don’t have a huge fan base, they don’t get a lot of love, they play in the worst stadium in Major League Baseball, and after their general manager, Billy Beane, devised a wonderful strategy to win, he went and told everyone about his success so that other teams could use it even better than the A’s do, and beat them at their own game.
All the time, the A’s continue that long tradition of wearing a white elephant on their uniforms; a constant reminder that something is just not right.
I was thinking about white elephants lately … something that seems nice on the surface, but really isn’t. That is the quandary I find myself in lately. I found out three weeks ago that I have been nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. It’s a thing. The application process alone takes a lot of time. On the other hand, because of that, only a small number of the nominees even reach the application phase (the number I was quoted from one winner was that in a given year there are maybe 50 or so nominees in Illinois, and perhaps 10 actually apply). I have no way of knowing the veracity of that. I sit here thinking that it is highly ironic that we have a president that is all about test scores, and yet to win this ultimate honor in teaching, they want me to submit a video of me teaching, and no test scores. I wonder what would happen if I got this thing, and then had to admit that I am only an “Adequate” teacher according to my evaluation. I think this alone demonstrates how screwed up teacher evaluation really is.
I was nominated for this once before, and I was not particularly moved to take action on it. Now I am just tired. My evaluation is over for the year, so between sipping vodka in class and showing stag films (this is what most people think teachers do when they aren’t being evaluated, yes?), so I have time … but I am just kind of reaching the “I’m fed up with it”. I want to send a letter back asking them if they are really sure they don’t want test scores, because they seem to think those are important, but since tenure doesn’t protect me anymore, I have to be careful to think pleasant thoughts to avoid ending up in a corn field somewhere.