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A Baseballer’s Wisdom: Is School Overrated?

A colleague recently circulated a link to this article on Adam LaRoche, former Chicago White Sox second baseman, who, when asked by his manager to stop bringing his son to practice, quit the team–and $13 million.  We’ve had a great internal debate about Mr. LaRoche’s decision: on one hand, he quit something he loved to raise his son as he wished.  On the other, perhaps he could have been a better example by going to work and making the most of his talents?  We’ll let you know when we settle this one… likely not for a while.

Either way, there is a lot that is admirable about Mr. LaRoche.  In particular, we chuckled at the part of the interview when LaRoch was asked why he “wasn’t big on school” for his children.  His response was delightful:

“Obviously, you have to go to school. It’s not like it was 100 years ago — even though I wish it was — when you literally followed your dad around. I’m from the Midwest, so typically it was out farming or ranching. If you’re old enough to walk, you’re going to be out working. I think school is a great way to get knowledge, but I don’t know how much wisdom you get. That’s what you pick up in real life.”

I love his answer because there is some truth to it depending upon the type of school your child is attending.  If school’s purpose is exclusively to teach “the facts”–the square root of 64, the capital of Minnesota, the demise of the Jacobins, and, yes, even coding–then I might just be with LaRoch on this one, all other things being equal.  I can sign my youngsters up for Kahn Academy and then take them fishing.  I might not train them up quite as well as a devoted, effective, professional teacher, but I will get the job done–and then impart copious amounts of life lessons while hiking.

This outlook on schooling reminds us of Charles Dickens’ utilitarian schoolmaster, Gradgrind, in Hard Times:

“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

But what happens if you expand the school house’s ambit beyond facts?  Or, to put it in LaRoche’s terms, beyond knowledge (presumably about perceptible-by-the-senses things like Lake Michigan and photosynthesis)?  Then you just might step out of the limits of technical training, and into the wonderful realm of education.  It’s a place where we teach not just the what, but also the why; not simply what happened, but what ought to have happened; and, not merely what one can do in the future, but how one should do that which one might.  In our case, maybe the question presented is “how should a man act and why?”  These are difficult and complicated questions.  The answers must be explained and witnessed.

How does this tie into The Heights?  Put simply, this is what we do!  We strive to provide knowledge and wisdom.  Our boys find–or can find, at least–this precious pearl in scholarship, in good conversation with older and wiser faculty, and even in their own experiences as students.  The pursuit of wisdom is part of our commitment to freedom!  Yes, we teach the facts and (increasingly important) how to find facts you are not yet conscious of.  But, once the facts are presented, we step into the realm of the normative, the metaphysical, the true, the good, and the beautiful.  You can achieve wisdom from the mistakes and successes of characters in good books.  The tulip poplar’s seed has a lesson for us!  And sometimes we learn that most things have a breaking point when we, well…  break things.

Where does this leave us?  I’d like to think that if LaRoche came back to DC, he’d gladly send his boy to The Heights where his son would find knowledge and wisdom.  And good baseball.

About the Author

Rich Moss


Rich is the Director of The Heights Forum and the Director of Admissions at The Heights School.

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