Reducing a player’s worth to a single number can be contemptible, says John Thorn, a seminal sabermetric writer and the author of the 1984 book The Hidden Game of Baseball. That book introduced the Linear Weights System, which attaches a value in runs to every offensive event. (For instance, a single when the book was released was worth 0.47 of a run.) Linear Weights System provides the mathematical basis for WAR’s offensive components. Thorn, while supportive of WAR, criticizes the way it is often deployed to end an argument.
“The current lowest common denominator of statistical writing is the fixation on comparing Player A with Player B, which seems to me not only worthless but serves to obscure the larger story of baseball,” Thorn says. “Enjoyment of baseball is like enjoyment of art. If you decide it has to have a utilitarian function & you make it seem like work. It’s supposed to be play.”
Given there aren’t many baseball players, they are already filmed and analyzed from virtually every angle1 in a game that’s relatively simple compared to something like, say, teaching, I don’t have a lot of hope for the assessment of teacher quality working out well. Roger Shank doesn’t make me feel any better.
We’re trivializing the idea of evaluating teachers in part because culturally we don’t value the position or the skills. There’s likely some way to look at teaching with at least a degree of circumspection but all portents seem to indicate we are going to do the opposite.
While education isn’t supposed to be “play” (or fun for that matter), teaching is part of larger story that requires a wider lens. Culturally, we love to over-simplify down to a single metric for success be it a number or letter2. I doubt that’ll change and as a result we do ourselves harm.
Insights on Humanity?
I used a blank Chrome account with no cookies etc. just to see what Google auto-completed with the prompt “I hate ___” and then when through the alphabet. Simply because I wanted to know. Even if it means nothing, it’d make for an interesting justification writing assignment.
I was looking for a site I went to that describe the texture of a particular mega-herb as like “hairy celery.” I’m hoping the autocompletes are the result of some wayward SEO attempt. I opted not to follow them to their Internet conclusion just in case my imagination was correct.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary site lets you indicate why you looked up a specific word via Facebook. Absent all the tracking etc. (which is a big absence) that’s a pretty cool feature and could lead to some interesting discussions. Seems like the context and multiple angles through which people are approaching words adds context and realism.