Post by Jenny
The school media center. A microphone standing ready. Parents sitting on folding chairs, armed with cameras, waiting with bated breath for the annual spelling bee. For some kids, it’s as anticipated as…well, not Christmas, but maybe one of the lesser holidays. For others, it’s as dreaded as a kid’s equivalent of an April 15th root canal.
I have mixed feelings about the bee. As a child, my default emotion in school was anxiety, especially when I was required to speak aloud. I was a good student and a good speller, but the bee stressed me out big time. Consequently, I feel the pain of every kid who, when faced with the microphone, the judges’ table, and the small crowd of expectant faces, suddenly cannot remember how to spell his or her own name. As the kids are eliminated, they’re not the only ones blinking back tears. We parents are, too.
But here’s what I love about the bee: it exposes children to fabulous new words. Of the 375 words on my fifth grader’s list, a good two-thirds fell within the average vocabulary of an older elementary student. But the rest…yowza. I was obliged to look up: slantindicular (somewhat oblique), eurytherm (an organism that tolerates a wide range of temperature), benison (a benediction), altricial (being hatched or born in an immature condition), plissé (a textile finish of permanently puckered designs)…and a few more.
I know that most kids cramming for the bee are not going to take the time to look up every word. They’ll get the rote memorization down and hope for the best. But at least they will see that the English language is full of beautiful, mysterious, sometimes humorous (chickabiddy, anyone?) words waiting to be used.
Though both are important, I think spelling should take a back seat to vocabulary. A student able to spell malfeasance, for example, is impressive, but knowing what the word means and how to use it is even better. (I would so love to hear a kid say, “It was malfeasance for the superintendant not to give us a snow day yesterday!”)
What are your thoughts on the spelling bee? (And for a little Monday humor, here’s comedian Brian Regan’s take on it. As performed by animated wolves. Yes, wolves.)