Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from May 29, 2009

W-h-o C-a-r-e-s?

First, let's call it for what it is, not what its title is.

The National Spelling Bee has nothing to do with spelling.

Well, maybe a little bit. But only a little bit.

The Bee is, in fact, a test of one's memory. The ability to remember the order in which the letters of words that no child will ever use, come in.

It's a demanding, almost cruel ordeal we put the children through.

And what do they get out of it, exactly?

Nausea. Cold sweats. Fainting spells -- no pun intended. Wracked nerves.

Besides, the Indian-American kids seem to have this down pat, so why bother anymore?

This year's winner is a 13-year-old girl from Kansas who is now the seventh Indian-American child to win the event in the past 11 years.

Her name is Kavya Shivashankar.

“Spelling has been such a big part of my life,” said the Scripps Spelling Bee 2009 winner to the Associated Press. Kavya has been participating in national bees for several years, including the 2008 Scripps bee.

I'm sure she's a sweet girl, but she's got it all wrong.

Spelling hasn't been a big part of her life. Memorization has been.

I'm not sure why we have spelling bees, if the words that are included have a 0.1% chance of being uttered in everyday conversation.

Look, I think the idea of a spelling bee, in its purest form, is a grand idea.

There's nothing wrong with knowing how to spell, No. 1.

I don't know about you, but I encounter bad spelling on a daily basis, and not just on Twitter or in e-mails.

How about on menus, or on signs?

And not just the handwritten ones, either. The kind that actually have to go through (you would assume) some sort of proofreading process.

So I'm not anti-spelling. Far from it. As a writer and editor, good spelling is sort of a part of my life.

But I'm anti-child abuse, and that's what I see the spelling bees--with these high stakes--as being.

Kavya being consoled after being eliminated from the 2008 National Bee

If we're going to have a National Bee, how about testing the kids on words they're likely to encounter somewhere other than a medical or psychiatric journal?

That's right--little Kavya's winning word was “Laodicean,” a phrase referring to lukewarm or indifferent feelings toward religion.

Yeah, that's something 13-year-olds are talking about at lunchtime.

According to this story, Kavya used the technique of writing the letters into her palm with her finger while saying them aloud.

Mirle Shivashankar told the AP that his daughter’s victory was “the moment we’ve been waiting for” and “a dream come true.”

That's all well and good, but these bees make me almost more uneasy than the kind that buzz around and sting.

The reason? They simply aren't, anymore, within the framework of what well-meaning spelling bees used to be.

A true spelling bee was designed to get kids to learn how to spell words, not medical terms or sociological categories.

Today's bees, which are the culmination of local and statewide bees prior to them, aren't designed to be helpful at all to the kids' futures.

It's all about who can cram and memorize the best.

Let's have bees that ask kids how to spell "bankruptcy" and "foreclosure". Maybe "waterboarding" and "recession."

Too easy? Maybe. But more reflective of life.

Recent bee champs have gone on to great things in life--doctors and engineers, for example.

Wonderful. But my gripe isn't that the kids aren't smart enough to make it in today's world.

Let's just not call them "spelling bees" anymore. Because they're not.

Fie on them!

F-i-e. Fie.


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