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value of spelling bees

There's a new movie coming out called Akeelah and the Bee about a young African-American student who competes in a national spelling bee. I don't usually go to movies, but because I like the general theme, and have always liked Laurence Fishburne, perhaps I'll go. I imagine I will buy the DVD eventually.

I was in a couple of spelling bees when I was about Akeelah's age. I placed second in my school district's bee, pretty good considering I was younger than most of the other entrants. I remember feeling lucky that I wasn't eliminated earlier, because there were some words I wouldn't have spelled correctly. There was one kid from another school who many people felt would win. He was eliminated on the word "viscount," which I might not have spelled correctly since I didn't use it regularly, although I remember there was a company or something called Viscount with a neon sign that could be viewed from the Long Island Expressway about a mile east of the tunnel entrance.

Being second made me an alternate for the NYC bee. I didn't participate but cheered on (along with my fifth grade classmates) our district rep. Afterwards, we went to see a Charlie Chaplin movie.

I have to question the value of spelling bees, however. I realize they help build vocabulary, but I think there is too much emphasis placed on words that are only used in very specific contexts. These kids spend a lot of time learning these words, which arguably could be spent on other educational activities. Also, perhaps it is not as important as it used to be to be able to spell really well because there is a lot of easily accessible spell-checking software. In fact, given how available spell-checking software is, I'm surprised there are as many spelling mistakes as there are in usenet news, blogs, etc. (I use LJ's spell-checker, which I wish had the ability to add words to it.)

Of course, the argument could be made that things I'm concerned about on aren't really all that important, such as the trivia questions I get asked on interviews. Why should someone memorize what port DNS lives on when it can be easily looked up? Does saying "I don't remember" make the candidate that much less desirable? OTOH, with so many qualified people looking for jobs, some arguably unreasonable criteria can make the difference. If the hiring manager (or whoever) just decided to pick an applicant at random, they might get a decent candidate.

The thought occurred to me that spelling might become the next educational "fad," like problem solving/puzzles have been for a while. If someone were to find some correlation between spelling ability and intelligence, or even "success" in the workplace, that might change the dynamics of who gets hired. My spelling abilities aren't what they used to be, and probably not up to the level of the people who win today's bees, but if it helped me get a really good job I suppose I couldn't complain.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 29th, 2006 07:10 am (UTC)
I always spelled well but did terribly on spelling bees because I had to see the written word to know whether it was spelled correctly, and I couldn't spell out loud. But I did learn to spell out loud after I learned to touch type - I would just mentally type the word and say each letter.
Apr. 30th, 2006 04:38 am (UTC)
I'm the same way. If someone asks me how to spell a word I have to concentrate on what it looks like (well, unless it's a no-brainer, but if it is I'm probably not being asked). I'm not slow because I'm figuring out the answer; I'm slow because I'm compiling the interpreter!

Apr. 29th, 2006 11:40 am (UTC)
I'm probably just naive, but I always thought a spelling bee was about remembering the spelling of the words you've encountered, and not something for which you did serious prep work.

Or maybe that's simply a reflection of my natural, well-cultivated indolence.
Apr. 30th, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
I did some prep work for my fifth grade spelling bees. There was a booklet passed out by a newspaper (The News, perhaps) with words to review.

It looks like some of these kids today do serious prep work, e.g. using PhDs as coaches. :)
Apr. 29th, 2006 01:35 pm (UTC)
sounds like a good movie.. I might check that out to take "A" to it. I get to choose the next one, and she choose the one for tomorrow and chose "Scary movie 4" UGH. not looking forward to it.
I used to do spelling bees as a kid, too.. and did quite well. Though I have known many very intelligent people who couldn't spell worth a damn and would be completely lost without spellcheck. The world would be topsy turvy for some should spelling ability ever be the measure on which they were judged!!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )