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Let Students Veer From the Old Path

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I recently stumbled across a blog post from Jason Kottke titled The invention of the jump shot.  As someone who has both played and coached basketball, I was intrigued a bit about the fact that there was actually a time when people shot the basketball without their feet leaving the floor.  I couldn't help wondering what caused the change from the set shot to the jump shot.  

My curiosity led me to an article by Brad Botkin of CBS Sports titled, Birth of the Jump Shot.  Botkin detailed the story of Kenny Sailors, a guard from the University of Wyoming who took the first jump shot on record in a college basketball in 1942 during a game at Madison Square Garden. However, this trivial tidbit does not tell the story of why Sailors created the jump shot. This all happened a few years earlier when Kenny was just 13 and he was routinely getting his shots knocked back at him by his older brother Bud. Kenny, just 5-foot-8, needed a new plan to get a shot up over his 6-foot-5 brother.  What followed of course was the jump shot.

However, what interested me as much as the ingenuity of the 13-year old boy who orchestrated the jump shot was the reaction of his older brother upon seeing this new tactic used against him. Here is an excerpt from Botkin's article where Kenny describes Bud's reaction:

Bud said to me, 'Kenny, that's a pretty good shot. You ought to try to develop that.' So from that point forward, that's pretty much what I did. I worked on that shot every chance I got."

I can't help thinking that if Bud had laughed his little brother off the court or chastised him for trying something so outlandish that Kenny would never have taken that shot at Madison Square Garden some eight years later.  Where would the game of basketball be today?  Interestingly enough, the jump shot still took some time to take off as a mainstream basketball move. In 1963, over 20 years after Kenny's historic shot, Hall-of-Famer Bob Cousy said the following prior to his final game with the Boston Celtics:

"I think the jump shot is the worst thing that has happened to basketball in ten years." Cousy's objections? "Any time you can do something on the ground, it's better." 

As R. Kelly's I Believe I Can Fly echoes in my head, I have to smile at the irony in the fact that an innovative basketball player like Bob Cousy did not see the possibilities in the jump shot. What does this have to do with education?  Like young Kenny Sailors, we need to move past the traditional mindset that got us to this point. History is full of examples of talented people like Bob Cousy who did not see the changes that were on the horizon. Let me remind you a few:

"Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."Darryl Zanuck, executive at 20th Century Fox, 1946  

"There is no reason that anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olson - the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

My final example is a bit of a challenge, fill in the blank on the following quote and then guess who said it...

 "_________ will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories." - ?

If you guessed the name of any 21st Century educator worrying about the impact of Google searches by his or her students then you are exactly...wrong. It was Socrates sometime around 400 BC worrying about the impact that writing was going to have on young scholars.

Of course this immediately brings to mind current disagreements about whether or not our students should be reading real books instead of digital books or whether they should take notes by hand instead of on a device.   Maybe these are bad exammples. However, the one point I want to make is that we need to allow our students to veer from the path that we have taken. We need to be cautious about holding onto outdated traditions with white knuckles because they are what we are most comfortable with or because it worked for us. The bottom line is that this type of thinking will be to the detriment of our students. Most importantly, when we see our students trying new things that may be a bit unorthodox, we need to consider saying what Bud Sailors said to his little brother Kenny - "That's pretty good. You should develop that."

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