In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, David Brooks compared baseball and soccer as metaphors for life. He suggested that while we often think our lives are like baseball games, our lives more closely resemble soccer games. According to Brooks, baseball is “basically an accumulation of individual activities. Soccer, on the other hand, is a game about occupying and controlling space. If we believe baseball is the best metaphor for life, we will believe that we individually choose our path in life. If we tilt toward the soccer metaphor, we will focus on how our path is shaped by the context around us – how the people, places, and ideas we encounter have a dramatic influence on our path in life. I do not see this as a pure dichotomy, rather I see strength in each metaphor. But the soccer metaphor is important to wrestle with, if only because we too often tilt toward an individualistic view of life.
What does this have to do with schools? A great deal. If we acknowledge the strength of the soccer metaphor – the idea that we are shaped by our environment and the people around us – we must focus on the culture of our schools. If we want students to grow into curious, compassionate, courageous adults, we must be sure that our school cultures are marked by students asking and pursuing great questions, working to deeply understand one another, and taking the intellectual and personal risks that build confidence. Schools have the opportunity and obligation to be intentional about the cultures they build. These cultures, perhaps even more than our courses and individual teachers, will shape what our students do, and who they become. Schools have no higher responsibility.