When I was a kid, I went through a phase of designing baseball stadiums. It was at the time that they built the new Comiskey Park and I felt like it was an injustice to the old. When other kids had idealistic dreams of playing first base for the Giants, I had dreams of designing their stadium when they would eventually replace Candlestick Park. The Beatles performed their last concert at Candlestick. I can’t blame them. Candlestick could even kill the desire to do anything in front of an audience. So, in the process, I studied pictures of Forbes Field and Ebbets Field and Shibe Park – all the places that used to have names like “Field” and “Park,” because they knew it was a location for baseball and not a multi-purpose stadium for every imaginable venue.
The bland, one-size-fits-all Candlestick ParkI like to think that I was above the trend, but nobody would listen to a nine year old. Most likely, though, I felt intuitively what the nation had felt collectively: we went the wrong way. We standardardized ballparks and created one-size-fits-all stadiums. Beginning in the mid-sixties, America built behemoths – strong, powerful, capable of seating 80,000, but lacking any authentic baseball feel. You couldn’t tell if it was St. Louis, Baltimore or Cleveland.
When teams realized the mistake, they started to recover elements of what was lost in these factory-direct, standardized stadiums. They took out the dangerous Astro Turf, realizing that grass is probably not something we should standardize. They studied places like Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds and Connie Mack Stadium and they began building ball parks again. I still think that Camden Yards in Baltimore (below) is one of the best places to watch a game. It captures the essence of authentic baseball while reminding us of our urban, post-modern social context (the skyline).
I am convinced that eventually America will realize that standardized education isn’t working, either. The push for newer, better, stronger, more results – we’re creating something akin to the Astro Dome. My hope is that when we go back and reform education, that we look back on what was lost. In the rush to create something newer and better, educational reformers don’t build a newer, flashier, technologically enhanced Astro Dome. Instead, I hope that we look back at Socrates and Erasmus and the apprenticeship model and even the one room schoolhouse and ask, “What did we lose when we made school a factory?”