Month: February 2014

Saving baseball’s Opening Day. Or, MLB should hire a sociologist! (me)

Major League Baseball’s 2014 Opening Day is Monday, March 31st. Well, actually, it’s Sunday, March 30th. Oh, wait, it’s actually Saturday, March 22nd.

Do you see the problem here? MLB likes to hold on to the notion that it is America’s Pastime, but the actual time of its Opening Day is difficult to follow which makes it, I’d guess, less likely that even fans will watch. And (pardon my nationalism) it’s not even in America this year. Most teams start on the 31st, but there’s an “Opening Night” game on the 30th, and the first regular season game is on March 22nd, in Australia. Where better to “kick off” ‘America’s Pastime’ than Australia, right? All this means that this ‘big game’ starts at 4am on a Saturday morning here on the east coast. I love baseball’s Opening Day, but I’m not waking up at 4am. Game 2 of that series is at 10pm Saturday, so I might be able stay awake for a few innings of that one.

Joy and I love baseball’s Opening Day so much, in fact, that for 10 years or so we’ve made the day a celebration. I arrange my schedule so that I’m free that afternoon, and Joy takes the day off of work. We subscribe to the Extra Innings package so we can see that first pitch, wherever it is (ought to be Cincinnati every year), and then we watch the Brewers’ game in full. We eat hot dogs, popcorn, and nachos, and we make homemade soft pretzels. I buy, and even drink, MGD in homage to my Milwaukee nine. It is a ritual that marks the arrival of spring and honors one of our shared passions as much as it is about watching the games.

All of this is why I was interested to learn yesterday about this petition to make Baseball’s Opening Day a national holiday. It is, of course, nothing but an advertising campaign for Budweiser, and its pitch-man is the face of the baseball franchise I most despise, former Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith. While I like the idea of America taking the day off to watch baseball, I don’t like the idea of another corporate sponsored holiday. And, very, very few people would realistically get a day off anyway. This is empty symbolism and advertising, and nothing more.

And there isn’t anybody paying attention who doesn’t know it. I’m not breaking anybody’s heart with this post. In fact, it’s just one more example of how MLB is terrible at ‘making a splash.’ The beauty of baseball is its regularity; its rhythms and routine. It is present in fans’ lives the way weather is to a weather buff. We’ve seen almost all of this before, we’ll see most of it again, and now and then you see something incredible you’ve never seen before and will never see again! It is a comfortable blend of the past and the future, with intense flashes of the present. MLB seems not to understand that instead of doing something contrived and painfully artificial that doesn’t fit into the confines of the sport’s foundational myths of timelessness and tradition, they ought to do something that settles it easily into its fans, and many non-fans, routines.

I’ve said before, often in a bar making exaggerated claims about how baseball is killing itself, that there is an easy way to make MLB Opening Day a bigger hit. To get this done the league doesn’t need the Cardinals’ class, it doesn’t need the White House’s executive power, and it doesn’t even need flipping Ozzie Smith. Just start the regular season with every team playing games on Sunday. In the afternoon. Is there anything better than Sunday afternoon day baseball? No, there isn’t. This would be 15 games* on Opening Day, and everybody’s team would be playing. Right now there are at least 4 national TV networks that cover games, including all of ESPN’s channels and the league’s own MLB TV. Starting at noon on the east coast and staggering start times until 4 or so on the west coast, you could have a 6 to 8 hour national blitz of baseball on a spring Sunday afternoon. MLB already does this most Sundays in the season, the only difference being that right now they only nationally televise 1 or 2 games of the 15 there are to choose from (the Red Sox and/or Yankees seemingly always being involved in the chosen games).

This solution is doable, and what’s best is that it fits within a narrative baseball cherishes. Forgive me the sugary language, but give us day games in the sun, with our families and friends, remembering the past and hoping for the future. And, fine, make some money by leveraging that beautiful myth on the one day you can probably get even non-fans to care by teaming up with America’s most widely loved pastimes – television and blockbuster beer ads.

You can have this idea for free, MLB, but how about hiring an ‘in-house’ sociologist?

*Only one of these 15 games would be the abomination that is inter-league play.

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You’re not a professor unless you spend some time professing

It’s never a good thing when folks start suggesting solutions to the problem that is you. In this case, I’m talking about the ‘problem of tenure’ that we hear so much about. The most recent ‘solution’ to get some attention appeared in the New York Times last week, under the headline “A Solution for Bad Teaching.” While the solution in this case wasn’t to abolish tenure, it was to create three ‘tracks’ a new ‘professor’ might follow to reach the hallowed ground of tenure: a research track, a teaching track, and a hybrid track. Essentially, the author argued that universities should ‘also’ reward professors for teaching. Researchers get a track, of course, but we need to make room for the teachers. I found it telling that, throughout the essay, the author seems to use  ‘teacher’ as synonymous with ‘adjunct.’ Dear parents thinking about sending your kids to college, that should tell you something about R1s. It’s an implicit admission that the ‘professors’ those schools value the most (i.e. by making a long term commitment to them and paying them the most) won’t be spending much valued time with your kids. Kind of makes you wonder what you are paying for, maybe?

Of course, the author was writing about research universities, but my first reaction was to think that he was completely unaware that other sorts of institutions of higher education exist. The Little Professor expressed this reaction very nicely, right here, suggesting that maybe the solution to bad teaching is teaching teachers how to teach. Madness, right? Quality teaching maybe isn’t some implicit magic that the rare prof can harness while others excuse themselves to the lab. Maybe it’s a skill that can be learned?

At ‘non-research’ schools (which is most of the schools, by the way) faculty are rewarded for quality teaching. Faculty here are also expected to be active in their professional fields. We write papers, review manuscripts, attend annual meetings, and serve on the committees of our professional associations. We teach 6 or 7, or 8, or 9 classes a year, and we perform college and community service. I’d argue that positions at non-research universities have already become that ‘hybrid’ position, and have been that way for quite some time. From a parent’s perspective, the easiest solution for ‘bad teaching,’ I’d suggest, is to send your kids to places where teaching is already valued and the teachers remain well versed in their chosen fields without the need of the ‘research’ prof sitting in the classroom with a checklist.

Central to these debates, but nowhere to be found in the NY Times piece, I’d argue, is the definition of professor. I’d start from the proposition that it means you’ve got something to profess to those not already converted to your worldview. Writing research papers or academic books that are read by 3 anonymous reviewers who are experts in your field, and periodically cited in research papers by those trying to climb the ranks of the profession doesn’t qualify in my mind. If you spend your time focused on your research to the practical exclusion of teaching, you’re not a professor. If you aren’t spending significant time passing your discipline on to those who aren’t already, or won’t soon be, professionals in the field, maybe you’re not a professor. If you spend most of your time attempting to sway the skeptic that your perspective is worthwhile, sort of like faculty teaching in ‘core’ or general ed curricula at liberal arts and community colleges do much of the time, you’re definitely a professor.

Well, at least in my book, which I hope to soon get published at an academic press. Gotta get full.

I don’t “get” why it matters: Creationism vs. Evolution

Yesterday I tweeted a joke about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham about Creationism and Evolution. As the debate approached its third hour I tweeted:

I was making less than clear reference to the more than 150 years that have passed since Darwin published On The Origin of Species, and the nearly 90 years since The State of Tennessee v. Scopes.

As a sociologist of religion (forgive me!), I know that the debate still rages, and I have a general idea of the demographics and religious factors that tend to correlate with the various positions. As a student of society, I understand why knowing about this debate and who is on which side is relevant. Just earlier this week I discussed Darren Sherkat’s recent article about religion and scientific literacy in the United States. He makes a convincing argument that because the public is involved in making decisions about science policy and application, scientific literacy is a valuable social good. That all makes sense to me. I get it.

Moment to moment, however, I have never been convicted by the spirit that the origin of our species matters very much. Were we created as is? Did we evolve? I think we evolved. The evidence is there to support the theory. I know, in the sense that I’m aware of it being true, the science of evolution helps us develop technologies and knowledge that help us live in a better world. That said, on a day to day basis, I think my own certainty about the origin of the species is completely irrelevant. I don’t need an answer one way or the other to make sense of the world I live in or to give meaning to the things I do. I just don’t “get” it.