Monday, June 1, 2009

The Scripps National Spelling Bee: You Are Dumber Than a Fifth Grader

Kavya Shivshankar, a 13-year-old girl from Kansas, won the 2009 Scripps Spelling Bee last week, becoming the seventh Indian-American student to win the competition in the last ten years. CBS News won't let me embed their video of an interview with Ms. Shivshankar, but you can click here to watch it.

Balu Natarajan, the 1985 National Spelling Bee chamption, tells NPR that spelling competitors today seem far more "deliberate" and "scientific" than the competitors of his era. When asked why so many Americans of Indian descent seem to win the competition, he says it is mostly a matter of hard work, but adds:
"There certainly is some contribution from other entities. There is a foundation called the North South Foundation that serves the South Asian community and they have been holding spelling bees since 1993. It initially started as a means of raising funds for kids who needed education in India and that has turned into quite the training and breeding ground. There are a lot of kids who have done well in those contests who have then gone on to the national competition and some of them have gone on to win."
Let's hope the difficulty of Scripps Spelling Bee words can be taken as a sign of our society's overall literacy: Natarajan won in 1985 by spelling milieu; Shivshankar had to spell laodicean this year.

Bonus: My all-time favorite Scripps Spelling Bee Moment. A clutch performance if there ever was one!

(Picture: Spelling Bee Trophy by "litlnemo" on Flickr. CC This is not the Scripps trophy, but the Seattle Spelling Bee prize from 1979.)

1 comment:

  1. Milieu is a beautiful word which I have actually used. Laodicean?! I am not sure this is a positive sign of our overall literacy!
    And the fainting scene is amazing. He jumps up and spells the word correctly with no affect.
    Thanks for this site, Brian, and all your research!