Spell Check.

spellingWhen I first heard that the National Spelling Bee being broadcast on ESPN it bothered me for vague reasons I really couldn’t define. It’s turning a kids’ event into a major spectacle complete with sponsors and graphics and fanfare, but then I have a hard time figuring out what’s wrong with that. By next year the finalists will be wearing STP stickers on their backs and the year after that there will be allegations of doping and the year after that there will be a special bonus round where the kids spell in cuneiform but that’s the way all these things go regardless of whether the participants are nine or nineteen or ninety, although it’s going to be pretty hard to catch anyone in a doping scandal at ninety because everybody’s on medication at that point so there’s no way of knowing who has an edge in the nonagenarian triathlon (bicycling, swimming, telling those damn kids to get off your lawn).

Several years ago a friend asked me, “When you see a child what do you think?” And I said I think about how many changes I’ve seen in my lifetime, not to mention the changes my parents and grandparents saw and I wonder what changes that child will see. It’s a sobering fact that the twentieth century alone saw more dramatic changes in technology than any of the previous centuries combined, even though humans themselves have remained the same. This does not make me afraid of the future. It makes me terrified of the future, but then I take a breath and settle down and remember that fear is sometimes rational and sometimes it isn’t and I shouldn’t worry about not being able to tell the difference, but that’s another story.

The pressure kids are put under when they participate in an internationally broadcast spelling bee may seem like an odd thing for me to fret about since my wife and I don’t have any kids in the spelling bee since our kids all have four legs and don’t compete in spelling bees. Although they have academic talents, including remarkable spelling abilities when it comes to words like “supper” or “cookie” their major achievements are athletic, but that’s another story. And I do have a vested interest in other peoples’ kids because they’re the ones who will program the robots that manage my nursing home.

The only potential downside to a kids’ spelling bee being treated as a really big deal I can think of is that kids will feel they’ve peaked early, that one day when they see their peers competing in the nonagenarian triathlon they’ll look back on the spelling bee and think of that as the highlight of their life with the intervening decades being one steady decline. And while there are child prodigies who burned out early there are others who went on to lead happy, productive lives outside of the spotlight. Adults can put an unfair amount of pressure on kids but it would be just as unfair to deny a kid with the talent and the desire the chance to excel at something because of the mere possibility that they might someday wish they’d had a “normal” childhood. And while all the kids who’ve competed in the spelling bee, or anything else, deserve credit for trying at least broadcasting the event will give the finalists—all the finalists and not just the winner—a chance in the spotlight. They’ll all be recognized for exceptionally hard work, and that recognition has the potential to inspire other kids to try amazing things which alleviates my fears about the future somewhat.

If nothing else the kids programming the robots that manage my nursing home will know how to spell.

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11 Comments

  1. halfa1000miles

    I would have just not gone or just took a dive had that been the case when I went. Seriously. Middle school was not a high-confidence period in my life. The fact that they broadcast our Spelling Bee over the intercom at my school freaked me out. The next step after that was intimidating to me. Any more fanfare would have been unacceptable.

    Reply
    1. halfa1000miles

      OMG. I just remembered something from second grade. We were going to have our very first play, on the stage, and parents were coming. We were the days of the month and I was January. This was my line. I REMEMBER MY LINE FROM SECOND GRADE. My line I never said in front of anyone:

      I am the baby of the family
      and I’m sometimes rather cold.
      I start things off with splendor,
      as the new rings out the old.

      I played sick that day. I was NOT going to get up there and say that. And I remember it was because in SECOND DAMN GRADE I did not want to say “I was the BABY”. That was too embarrassing to me. Now I have to go look that up and see what that line is from. I have remembered it for a half century.

      Reply
      1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

        Now I want to know what it’s from too. My second grade teacher was insanely creative and wrote a Star Wars-themed Christmas play for us to perform. I was C-3PO and had one line: “R2 and I will shoot the toys down the chimneys with our laser guns.”
        I almost blew it. I had to be prompted to say my line.
        Also my British accent was terrible.
        It’s probably a good thing I didn’t try to become an actor.

        Reply
    2. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s kind of depressing that your confidence was so low in middle school, but then middle school seems to be a period that wrecks everybody’s confidence. Is broadcasting the Spelling Bee over the intercom better or worse than having the whole school sit in the gym and watch it? It’s hard to say, at least for the contestants. For the audience it’s easier to sleep if it’s in the gym.

      Reply
      1. halfa1000miles

        In all previous years, they had ONLY the contestants in the gym. We had no audience, until they decided to put it on the loudspeaker.

        Reply
  2. Sarah

    You had TWO another stories in there–loved it! 🙂 That was a great post. You got me thinking about a few things, there, the first being how absolutely terrifying it would be to participate in that spelling bee. No thank you! We were forced to compete in one onstage in elementary school (at least I think that’s a real memory and not something I saw on a TV show once?) Regardless–for me or for the actors–it was the scariest thing in the world. Broadcasting it does somehow feel like a further indication of the times…all these parents shuffling their kids off to twenty lessons a week (dance, judo, costume design, what have you) in hopes that they’ll get the supreme justification in life of having a gifted child. Ugh, as you know I’m a teacher. And these kids are busier after school than they are IN school…and it’s rarely their own idea to do it. Also, I like that you mentioned technology! I’ve been thinking of writing a post on that for a while, just because I cannot believe how much things have developed just since I was a kid! I remember getting our first VCR and how I stayed home from school “sick” the next day and watched The Wizard of Oz ten times in a row. We didn’t even have a microwave until I was old enough to appreciate the speed of it. Just crazy. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      There were a couple of posts without “another story” there so I had to make up for that here, although I try not to overuse the catchphrase. Catchphrases are like oregano: a little bit goes a long way.
      Anyway the only spelling bees I remember from when I was a kid are, first, one when I was in middle school that our teacher told us about but that none of us actually entered, and another from one of the “Peanuts” movies where Charlie Brown is a finalist. It makes spelling bees look terrifying when Charlie Brown’s friends are watching it on TV and the contestants are just heads floating in a black field and if they misspell a word they pop out of existence. It was The Spelling Thunderdome.
      And I remember our first VCR too, which, oddly, we got some time after our first microwave.
      I’m sorry to hear that kids are slammed with so many extracurricular activities. I’ve heard about that and thought it was exaggerated, or that at least it was only a US thing. Fortunately I have friends who let their kids have free time to explore, so there’s hope for the future.

      Reply
  3. Ann Koplow

    Every post you write, Chris, inspires me to try amazing things and alleviates my fears about the future somewhat. This is particularly good for me since I’m already on medication and have more fears about the future this week. I’m glad to see that I spelled every word in this comment correctly.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You inspire me too to think about things in new ways, and your posts open me up to seeing the world in new ways. That matters so much more than worrying about speling.

      Reply
  4. Michelle

    I have “going on a quiz show” on my bucket list, but the only problem with that is the bloody things are on television and that scares the bejesus out of me. I just KNOW I’ll choke, and give a really dumb answer and then be a viral dumbass for all eternity. But maybe I could win something. So it’s still on the bucket list.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Keep that on your bucket list. I have this dream of someday going on “Jeopardy” even though I know it’ll be nothing like sitting and watching it from my couch. Seriously, some nights I can watch “Jeopardy” and feel like the smartest person in the world because I know so many of the answers but I’m sure that if I went on the real show the board would be 64 things I couldn’t possibly know.

      Reply

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