Things I Know 154 of 365: I found the hidden game

In other words, hidden games are hidden in ways that invite neglect.

– David Perkins

When I was young, my grandparents would watch the St. Louis Cardinals.

That doesn’t quite explain the ritual.

First, they would turn on the television and select the proper channel. When the pre-game banter flickered to the screen, my grandfather would turn down the volume to nothing.


He would then make his way to his recliner and turn on the radio on the side table between my grandfather’s chair and my grandmother’s seat on the couch. Carefully, he would turn the radio dial to KMOX out of St. Louis, and the room would fill with Jack Buck’s earnest, gravelly announcing.

This was how you watched a baseball game.

It took me years before I realized a person did not require both a working television and radio when watching a baseball game.

For my grandparents, though, these two sources revealed the secret hidden game of baseball. Buck’s play-by-play allowed access to something the television announcers kept hidden.

The pictures on the screen added a degree of detail Buck could never create.

David Perkins’ idea of helping students understand the hidden games inherent in their learning has been rattling around in my head since I read his Making Learning Whole last summer.

The concept itself was some sort of hidden game, suspended just beyond my comprehensive reach by some gossamer intellectual thread.

“A great deal of learning proceeds as if there were no hidden games,” Perkins writes, “But there always are. They need attention or the learners will always just be skating on the surface.”

Even the metaphoric understanding provided by my grandparents’ baseball viewing habits wasn’t made whole until Friday night.

After a day of travel, I settled in to watch the recorded women’s semi-final match of the French Open between Li Na and Maria Sharapova.

I forget how enthralled I become with tennis until I realize a Grand Slam title is being decided.

Remote in hand, I attempted to power up the various pieces of my father’s entertainment system without waking everyone in the house.

I’m not sure of the key exact key combination, but for a few minutes, I could hear the match, but the screen was blank.

Tennis and baseball are different.

One can visualize the strategy and battle of a baseball game given only an announcer’s play-by-play.

Such is not the case with tennis. Hanging on every word from the announcers as well as the barbaric, womanly grunts from the players, I attempted to understand the game I was supposed to be watching.

I failed.

While it was clear that what I was hearing was a game of tennis, the game itself with all of its nuance and tension was hidden from me.

In that moment, Perkins’ argument slipped into place in my brain.

I understood the idea of the hidden game and the detriment at which we put our students without taking time to reveal the hidden game in our teaching.

“Only a small percentage of teaching-learning experiences include explicit attention to the strategic dimension,” Perkins writes of the negligence of most teachers in teaching the hidden game. “The strategic game is hidden by neglect. It’s hidden by the preoccupation of the teaching-learning process with the surface game, with getting the facts and routines right, with getting through the problem sets and other assignments.”

The tennis match’s announcers were relaying the facts of the game perfectly. The sounds from the court gave notice of the routines being followed. The strategy, though, as Li and Sharapova battled it out, remained hidden. I knew a game was being played, but could not appreciate its detail.

Such is the case when I forget to help my students understand the hidden games in the learning we’re doing in class and instead get tied up in due dates and formatting. The strategic game of learning gets left by the wayside.


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