Spelling for a Better World
June 1, 2007

If you ever want to suffer a massive blow to your intellectual ego, watch the Scripps National Spelling Bee. What these pre-pubescent middle schoolers can do is nothing short of amazing.

To describe a spelling bee as "enthralling" is probably teetering on the edge of sanity, but I must say every time the national bee rolls around I am giddy. Between the bizarre mnemonics, the fainting, and the Alex Trebekian-bred announcers, I just can't get enough. As nerdy as that statement may sound, it speaks volumes that this year the bee made its way out of ESPN's weekend-crappy-time-slot obscurity and into prime-time on a major network station. If only we could get Dick Vitale to call the play-by-play next year. That would be one entertaining event.

If you hadn't noticed, spelling is now "hot." Well, sort of. I doubt the masses will be lining up for autographs of spelling bee champions any time soon. I sometimes wonder if there is a direct correlation with spelling aptitude and social awkwardness. Awkwardness certainly abounded on that Washington D.C. stage last night. Then again, I'd like to see any adult (myself included) stand up on stage in front of millions of viewers and spell "autochthonous" (the winning word of 2005) with such finesse. I reckon the nationwide acceptance and appreciation of such talent and ability has grown leaps and bounds over the last few years. Surely that's thanks to ventures like last year's fabulous, though not so blockbuster film--"Akeelah and the Bee"--a movie I am not ashamed to admit made me shed a tear or three. It's also a movie that despite rave reviews and the public blessing of "Reverend" Oprah Winfrey, didn't fare so well at the box office. Black girls winning spelling bees isn't quite as appealing as black women whoring themselves for Academy Awards, I guess.

The presence of "diversity" among the spellers is a matter of perspective. When I worked for Google, a large percentage of the company's employees were East Indian. Needless to say, naan is now one of my staples. Most companies would put a feather in their diversity cap for pulling such numbers. In the tech world however, it has become quite clear that a large presence of East Indian employees is the rule and not the exception. So diversity for Google meant recruiting more women and more Americans of color. In that same vein, I often notice that at spelling bees, diversity abounds, but really, it doesn't. The statistics are fascinating. Some commonalities found among the majority might be: quality of school district, socioeconomic status, and presence of two parents in the home. I'd be curious to know exactly what are the makings of a typical championship speller. I won't lie; year after year I wonder why we don't see any more black students up there competing for the title. The "Why" is probably a much bigger question than I'm willing to discuss here. This year, however, I was very pleased to see Kennyi Aouad, 11, of Terre Haute, Indiana, a "fly" in the proverbial buttermilk of academic competitions. I almost cried. Clearly spelling bees are emotional occasions for me.

I also shouldn't fail to mention this year's winner, Evan O'Dorney, whose winning word "serrefine" seemed to present little challenge to his studious mind. But my pick of the night was the lone girl in the top ten, firecracker Isabel Jacobsen of Madison, Wisconsin. I can't help but keep solidarity with my chromosome sisters. She made it into the top three spellers and to boot she is one smart cookie. In her video profile aired during the bee, she mentioned one of her favorite words I will soon be adding to my arsenal:

"Kakistocracy": Rule by the least-able or least-principled of citizens; a form of government in which the people least qualified to control the government are the people who control the government.
Out of the mouths of babes, eh? Come January 2009, I fear we might have more uses for "Kakistocracy" than we'd like should a few certain individuals be elected to the White House. Blogger Michelle Malkin has other suggestions for use of the word.

Until then, I'll be reading my dictionary, trying to catch up for next year.

Posted by Ambra at June 1, 2007 12:43 AM in Education
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the bee was great to watch!....glad to see another fan of insane spelling....naan SO good!

Aw man, you missed your chance!
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