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EDUCATION/ Moneyball: How to Count What Really Counts

Brad Pitt in Moneyball Brad Pitt in Moneyball

For some – mostly the politicians – it’s all about jobs. This is closest to the Moneyball approach: do the college grads really get jobs? Is a major in art or literature or ancient civilizations really valuable, or should colleges be working harder to shunt students into accounting or the health professions (or the ignored-but-booming field of data science as seen in Moneyball)? Do we count the value of a college education by the dollars it brings in at the end? With soaring student loans on the one hand and President Obama’s push for an increase in college-prepared workers on the other, this seems an important metric.

Others emphasize the traditional liberal arts and sciences: a college education should be transformative, producing deep and critical thinkers who will go on to be the scholars and the intellectual leaders of the next generation. This view is close to my heart: after a year weighing history, sociology and economics as majors, I chose history because it seemed the most important – without even asking the question “what will I do next with this degree?” It was a good choice – even if my subsequent path took me into a licensed profession – social work – and a more directly applicable social science.

The Benedictine in me takes the question still one step back, to ask the question raised by St. Benedict and the psalmist before him:  “But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet: Who will dwell in your tent, Lord; who will find rest upon your holy mountain? (Ps 14 [15]:1) After this question, brothers, let us listen well to what the Lord says in reply, for he shows us the way to his tent.”

Moneyball is an excellent film for what Fr. Benedict Auer1 calls video divina – watching a film from a contemplative perspective, seeking the message God has for you. On the one hand, it suggests the importance of finding methods that are not led astray by appearances: to be able to truly count, to keep objective measure without bias or sentimental thinking – to be accountable. On the other hand, it places the question of ultimate value – what does matter, and how do we measure it – clearly before us.

It is a great film for statistics. I may find a way to include it as an extra-credit project next year. But its real value is in asking: what counts, and how do we count it?

First appeared in Monastic Musings Too.

1 Auer, Benedict, OSB, (1991). Video divina: A Benedictine approach to spiritual viewing. Review for Religious, Mar/April 1991.

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