WASHINGTON (CAP) - The Scripps Howard Spelling Bee, in response to complaints about pressure on young participants, has announced it will start allowing students to misspell words in the competition beginning next year.
"We've had many complaints from parents and psychologists who say being ejected from a spelling bee can be a traumatic experience for a child," said Bee Chairwoman Sally Fredericks, noting that the organization received a petition with more than 50,000 signatures from the American Parents United Against Competition (APUAC).
"It does horrible things to children's self-esteem when they spell a word wrong," noted APUAC spokesperson Mitzy Bennington. "If they're allowed to spell words incorrectly without getting ejected from the competition, they get the experience of participating without all those bad feelings that come along with not winning.
"It's important that we leave these children with the impression that they're smart and important and special, even if they're not," noted Bennington.
Under the new rules, participants will each be given a word to spell. The moderator will not indicate whether they spelled it correctly or incorrectly, saying instead, for example, "Great job, Johnny! You're the best!" Then the participant will return to his or her seat.
After five rounds of play using those guidelines, the event will be declared completed and each participant will be awarded a trophy exactly the same size and weight of all the other participants' trophies.
"This way every student goes home feeling like they participated in something special, even if they're not sure exactly what," said Bennington.
The plan has come under fire in some quarters from critics who say it will put us even further behind other countries with more stringent academic guidelines. For instance, in China a spelling bee participant who spells a word wrong is whacked forcefully in the buttocks three times with a horse-hair switch and sent to sit with his or her parents, who are instructed to spend the entire ride home reminding the child how he or she has shamed their ancestors.
"And that's why China has better supercomputers, better military equipment, better university-entrance scores, and supposedly even better parents, and they're making the toys in our kids' Happy Meals, and we're just eating them and getting fatter," said Glenn Beck on his Fox News show last Thursday. "Because they can spell!"
Then he drew a convoluted chart equating the words "spell" and "hell," and cried.
But APUAC and others point out that the competitive version of the spelling bee carries its own potential problems. Bennington mentioned the incident last year, when MLB umpire John Joyce, acting as special guest officiator at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, insisted Elena Wong, 12, of Forest Hill, N.J. had misspelled "bouleversement," when subsequent replays showed she hadn't.
"Now wouldn't Elena have been better off if we'd just given her and everybody else there a trophy?" asked Bennington. Plans to issue all participants dictionaries as well have been scrapped when some parents suggested it could hurt children's self-esteem to suggest that they could possibly need one.
Fredericks, the bee chairwoman, admitted that she would likely miss the competitive nature of the event. "But I take solace in the fact that the kids will probably still be able to figure out who had spelled words wrong, and then torment them on the playground," she said.
- CAP News Staff