My father-in-law is an intelligent and accomplished man. He grew up in Tennessee, has a Master’s degree in Ocean Engineering, and has become one of the foremost experts in the world in his field (something something oil platforms something). I’ve occasionally seen documents he’s had to work on or overheard his portion of conference calls, and even though I’m reasonably well-versed1 in physics, chemistry, and engineering, most of it was well beyond me.
I say this to try to reinforce that he knows his stuff.
A few years ago, I was talking with him about how the St. Louis Cardinals were in the postseason again, and describing something that had happened in one of the games. It’s quite possible I was describing Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, which for those who ignore baseball, is considered one of the best games of all time, and was pretty exciting for Cardinals fans (eventually).
Either way, partway through this discussion, my father-in-law looks me dead in the eye and asks, “When baseball goes into overtime, the first team to score wins, right?”
Mr. K was trying to teach us baseball. He was my math teacher junior year of high school, when we were taking calculus. I don’t use his full name because privacy, and he was a refugee from Nigeria who was trying to teach a bunch of teenagers how to find derivatives. I have a lot more respect for him in retrospect than sadly I did at the time.
Anyways, one class, he went over the rules for baseball. He explained things like what a “hit” was, and how “runs” are scored, and things like that. Having attended baseball games since I was too young to stay the whole night, I zoned out on the specifics. I think other portions of the class zoned out, as well.
Why was our math teacher taking precious time away from math instruction to teach us baseball? We didn’t really care—it meant less homework for that night.
In French class my freshman year of high school, we covered clothing and other personal affects like that. The general pattern was that we had a sheet with hand-drawn pictures of the various things, then the teacher would tell us the French word for the English.
“And une chemise is the word for ‘blouse’,” she said nonchalantly.
My hand shot up immediately. “Yes, Keith?”
“What’s a blouse?” I asked, to the immediate surprise of all of my female classmates that I did not, in fact, know what a blouse was.2
This scene was repeated for half a dozen articles of clothing that I hadn’t really been exposed to before. At that time, I wore jeans, shorts, t-shirts, and sweatshirts. I hadn’t even worn a suit or tie since I was too young to actually remember.
That clothing section was the collection of the worst grades I’ve ever gotten in a foreign language.
I took foreign languages in college for fun, because they’d be an easy A.
A new suite of standardized tests were all the rage in Missouri. It was super important that we do well because the schools would be punished if we didn’t actually know the answers to things. Or maybe we would be punished. Or maybe teachers would be fired. We never really knew, except that it was super important to do well on the tests.
A few days after Mr. K tried to explain the rules to baseball, we had to take the math portion. It was something like three scenarios, with a suite of questions associated with them. I think one of them was doing some geometry for a high-school track, or something like that.
One of the scenarios was all about baseball. No real explanation about what it was actually asking; the test-writers had simply assumed that everyone who took the test would know the rules. Including things like “if the batter is walked, it doesn’t count as an at-bat for the purpose of calculating batting average”.
It didn’t really trip me up; I had grown up with baseball. I knew it was ninety feet between the bases, so I could calculate that a ball thrown from third to first was , or about feet.
If the scenario had been about football, I would have been lucky to know that the field is 100 yards long, not 100 feet.
When I was two or three years old or so, I’m told my parents had my intelligence tested.
I’m also told that the people running the test indicated that I was lagging behind my peers because I did not know that I was supposed to wear a raincoat when I went out in the rain.
After all, growing up, my parents simply let me play outside in the rain, even if it meant I got a little wet. To this day, I don’t wear raincoats. I graduated college cum laude.
In middle school, all the cool kids played football during recess. I’m pretty sure it was touch football in some way; not being one of the cool kids, I never actually played.3 When not playing, they discussed the rules, or whatever had happened in the game recently, and things like that. The Rams had come to St. Louis only a few years before, so I think there might still have been a bit of a honeymoon period. Or, y’know, kids being kids.
In all of middle school, I don’t know that I ever once talked with anyone about baseball.
In high school, I was on the baseball team for one season,4 though I was pretty bad at it. A number of other guys were on the team, mostly because it was the only men’s sport we had. In order for the school to have had a football team, every male student would have had to be on it. I went to a small, female-dominated school.5
However, despite baseball being the sport, everyone who talked sports talked football. But most of the students didn’t talk sports. At least, not in my hearing.
So, Mr. K hastily tried to teach baseball to the majority of the juniors, because he couldn’t count on the fact that we would actually know it.
I wonder, sometimes, how my father-in-law would have done on the baseball section. My memory is certainly pretty fuzzy on what exactly was asked, and it’s possible the years have embellished it a little more for me. It’s quite possible that a reasonably intelligent person could probably take good guesses at what they didn’t know, and at least make the math work out. It was one of those standardized tests that exhorted us to “show our work” so we could get “partial credit”, so it’s possible that ignorance of baseball wouldn’t actually have mattered.
But I still wonder.
After all, I nearly failed out of high school because I didn’t know anything about women’s clothing.
At least, compared to the average American. ↩
And to be honest, I’m still a little fuzzy on the difference between a “blouse”, a “shirt”, and a “top”. ↩
Though, there were a number of days that I would walk around them, pretending like my glasses were video cameras catching the action, and mumbling my own I-don’t-actually-know-anything-about-this-game commentary to myself. I kind of pride myself for thinking up Google Glass years early, and being geeky enough to pretend having it in public. ↩
Trivia: I was the right fielder. ↩
That both my high school and college were majority female has, I think, had no small impact in how I view “gender relations”. ↩