June 2, 2007
Say what you will about the National Spelling Bee. Movies have been made that touch people's hearts; movies about little kids learning the joy of achievement, about adults learning from children; movies about the pressure, tension, and the miracle of a child being held to some arbitrary standard and transcending the challenge. Broadway plays that win Tony Awards have been produced about spelling bees. I've said a lot about the spelling event over the years. I once wrote an angry letter to the editor of the local paper about it. As a matter of fact, I'm ag'in the whole thing.
We used to have spelling bees in school as a way to drill correct spelling into us. As such, they were harmless, and did get us to focus on a list of words and rules that would help us in a world before the Spellcheck feature on computers did it all for us. But the "national spelling bee" concept erased any real learning value in spelling bees and made it a showcase for children, a new arena in which parents could micro-manage their children's lives and the media could make a hero of a child, after months of memorization, repetition and focus on a single activity would happen to be dealt a list of obscure words that he had worked on learning to spell and not crack under the pressure by actually spelling the last one right.
It's no coincidence that most winners (including this year's) are home-schooled, where they are given full-time to focus on the one important thing in life: learning how to spell the words they might be given in the bee.
Usually the winning word is one that adults don't know the meaning of, and the child will likely never have the need to use. This year is no exception there, although the word itself does not seem to be a very difficult one. As in most tests, winning the spelling bee has more to do with guessing right than anything else.
But this year there was a treat in the contest.
It seems that most of the serious young spellers are normal, well-balanced kids after all, as exemplified by the adorable moment replayed most often on the tv news after the event. An 11-year-old from Terre Haute named Kennyi Aouad was given the word "sardoodledom" as his spelling word. Don't tell me he's not a good speller; he's had to go through life spelling both Kennyi Aouad and Terre Haute. Well, the word sardoodledom was one he'd never come across before -- except maybe on his spelling list -- and hearing it pronounced cracked him up. He knew how to spell it, but just saying he did struck him as funny. He would lose it every time he had to pronounce it. If you didn't see the footage of his spelling the word, look for it on YouTube; it's surely there, and it will give you a laugh today and a smile forever.
Can't help but love this kid! Can't help but hope that he knows how much joy he gave us jaded curmudgeons who hate the National Spelling Bee but love the spellers.