Vince Lombardi, World Cup and …SBG

Vince Lombardi was quoted as saying “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”. If the Wikipedia is correct, he said it not only once, but multiple times. Amy Chua the author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” recounts that when she was a child she won second place in a essay contest.  She invited her parents to the awards ceremony, but afterward her father said: “Don’t ever embarrass me again like that.” The favorite US Women’s soccer team lost this past Sunday to Japan in the Women’s World Cup.  They were ahead twice and the Japanese team tied them. In the shootout, the Americans melted. But many in the media and some of the players themselves said they were proud of their effort and that their performance is nothing to be ashamed of.  In congratulating Japan, Women’s Health Magazine begins by saying “While we’re still mourning the loss (just a little!)….”  Just a little?

“Mr. S., I know I got a 2 in the AP Stats Exam, but I did my best…” “It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game” What rubbish!  You failed the exam. You lost the championship. A year from now, few people will remember how hard you tried – the record books will say you lost.

When did we lose the Vince Lombardi ethos? When did we start making excuses? In the state tests in Mathematics in California, “Proficient”, the second highest category starts at 65% correct answers! (Algebra II – 2008 data). “Advanced”, the highest category starts at 80% correct. Isn’t 80% supposed to be a B?

This is a serious and damaging cultural phenomenon. It affects the performance of some of our better students, and as these students grow up it will affect the performance of American society, of our country.

It is very hard to go against the flow. However, I maintain that we – as teachers – must make every effort to reverse this culture of excuses, the culture of narcissism. Day in and day out we need give our students fewer pats on the head and more kicks in the deriere.

How do I reconcile this philosophy with that of SBG, where we offer reassessments as a matter of policy? First, reassessment – at least the way I plan it – is for the weekly quizzes, where students are assessed on basic knowledge and technical skills. I do not intend to offer reassessment for the summative tests, where there are more critical thinking questions. Second, reassessment will have its limits. I plan a maximum of two reassessments for each learning objective – that is all. Lastly, the part of the courses where a student can reassess (the quizzes) is only half the final grade. The other half comes from the summative tests – not “reassessable”.

My hope is that SBG will provide a structure for the students to be winners.


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