Of course, tonight was the national championship for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is broadcast on ESPN and is the Holy Grail for thousands of families across the nation. This year provided two champions, as two boys outlasted the list, finishing off with words like fueilleton. Of course, like always, it is the strangest form of entertainment, providing many bizarrely memorable moments like these. This year Ansun Suejoe and Sriram Hathwar shared the championship of a trophy and $30,000 in prize money. And, I guess, the bragging rights.
But why is this worth it? Why does this matter?
As an English teacher of advanced students, and the parent of a gifted child who has advanced far in both spelling bees and math competitions, I have to admit that I can't quite fathom a more inane pursuit than the spelling bee. And don't bother telling me about the cognitive development or the inclusion of the vocabulary component. It is just the most useless form of trivia. And I am not arguing that all educational pursuits should be utilitarian.
But imagine if all the countless hours (and thousands of dollars) spent memorizing obscure and useless words ( most of which aren't even English ) was instead spent developing skills in math and science and the fine arts. What if kids spent the hours learning how to play an instrument or write a symphony or develop their hook shot or swim a faster quarter mile or study ecosystems or … well, you get the point. And, don't even get me started on the prize money. $30K? Hell, I bet most families of top competitors spend thousands on tutors and travel and more. And the prize money doesn't come close to funding pursuits in college. Perhaps Scripps could pony up a real scholarship. Like maybe four years of in-state tuition for students who can write and develop arguments and feature stories on complex ideas and global issues.
That might be worth my time.
In all honesty, I used to intentionally fail at the spelling bee, so I wouldn't have to stand up in front of the class going through the charade. And that approach has been so perfectly captured by comedian Brian Ragan.