Monday, January 11, 2010


I require my students to write many highly structured essays, and I often remind them that it’s a LeBron James-like endeavor. James, after all, is required to work within a very structured set of guidelines. There are dozens of clear-cut rules he must abide by as he goes about producing his astounding feats in a basketball game, to say nothing of the relatively small dimensions of the court upon which he must perform. In addition, he has a coach and teammates who expect him to follow a game plan that, at his level of play, is no doubt detailed and convoluted. It might seem to be a miracle that he is able to be so creative within all this structure, but I see it differently: his creativity, I believe, is enhanced by the structure. Imagine if he had to follow no rules, no game plan, and there were no boundaries to the court. Imagine if he could do whatever he pleased with the ball, including double-dribbling, running while carrying the ball, and even dashing up into the stands with the ball, or outside the building and down the street. It sounds ridiculous, mostly because we know he wouldn’t be fun to watch anymore. We know, when we think about it, that it’s precisely the rules and boundaries that make his creativity so noteworthy. Working within the rigid structure of the game, LeBron James is a maker of marvels because of the structure. I sometimes remind my students of this when I give an essay assignment -- tell them again that all the rules and guidelines I set up for their essay assignments are actually designed to help them set their ingenuity free. I tell them I would be doing them a disservice if I simply said, “Write whatever you want however you want to”, because who is impressed by a writer – or basketball player – who isn’t pushing against or bouncing off or stretching or manipulating or dancing with (as James does) a structure and a set of rules? To put it another way, who is impressed by a writer or athlete (or any type of artist, for that matter) who faces no challenges or obstacles? Where is the creativity in that? My final reminder to the students is that perhaps the most creative writer in our language, Shakespeare, wrote all his plays and poems within very strict guidelines, including the fairly inflexible formula of iambic pentameter. He discovered that the most exciting creativity lies hidden inside structures and rules, and so, I think, has LeBron James – and so, I hope, will my students.

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