Not that I needed the additional evidence, but today’s mentoring session provided further confirmation of our educational system’s woeful state. No traditional classroom elements featured in the demonstration either. Rather, the latest vehicle illustrating youngsters’ infertile minds was basketball.
My third-grade charge previously had expressed an interest in shooting hoops together. This morning, the two of us adjourned to the school’s outdoor court for a game. Another group of third-graders asked if they could join us, and we agreed. Since ten kids wanted to play, including Ernie, I acted as referee. I thought I should add a modicum of education to the activity, so I assigned names of equal length to both teams, told everyone that each basket would earn one letter, and said the first side to spell its name wins.
I chose seven letter names for the two teams: the “Celtics” and “Bullets.” Despite a laundry list of infractions – including blatant fouls, traveling and double dribbling – and a shooting percentage even the blindfolded could’ve bettered, the Bullets eventually took a six to five lead.
That’s when the first disquieting signs appeared. Upon scoring their sixth basket, the Bullets ceased playing and began high-fiving each other. Interrupting their celebration, I asked what they were cheering about. The unanimous response was: “We won!”
“What do you mean, ‘we won?’” I questioned. “You only scored six baskets!”
Responding on behalf of his teammates, an unofficial spokesman replied: “Yeah. And that spells Bullets: B.U.L.E.T.S. So we win!”
Incredulous, I looked to the Celtics’ players, including Ernie, for expressions of outrage. But none of them took issue with their opponent’s spelling skills. More disturbingly, when I informed the boys of the error, they didn’t believe me! I had to show them the entry from an online dictionary!
Matters only worsened when the Celtics stormed back to score their seventh basket … and kept on playing. Inwardly groaning, I again interrupted the contest and asked the Celtics: “Whoa, why are you guys continuing the game?”
The unanimous response was: “Because we didn’t win yet!”
I tried to point out the obvious: “But you guys scored seven baskets already! What more do you need?”
The lad replying for the group sought to clear up my confusion: “We only spelled S.E.L.L.T.I.K., so we still need an ‘S’ to win!”
At last my mentee spoke up for the first time, informing his friend: “Hey, that’s not how you spell Celtics!”
My brief hope that one child at least knew the proper spelling for the most decorated team in NBA history quickly dispelled as Ernie finished his thought: “It’s s’posed to be spelled S.E.L.L.T.I.C.K.S., so we need two more baskets to win, not one.”