While political and divisive ideologies have pushed public education to lower academic standards, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has championed excellence since it began almost a century ago.
The Bee is the Olympics of education and language arts.
Every year, millions of people witness this quintessential American tradition either in person or on television, captivated by the display of intellect and prowess exhibited by these young individuals.
Students aged 9-14 from all over the nation and several other countries have descended upon Washington, D.C. this week, determined to become the champion and spell with their hearts.
Not only has the Bee refused to bow down to the gradual decline of academic standards, but it has evolved into a more challenging competition over the years.
In the past, competitors were solely required to spell words on the stage. However, the Bee introduced a preliminary exam to determine which spellers advanced. Over time, the rules underwent further modifications, which have also included vocabulary questions.
Several of the reasons for the increasing difficulty of the Bee has been to improve competitiveness and provide more challenges for spellers, as well as help them develop a deeper love for the English language.
The Bee is also personal to me because I once competed in spelling bees. While I never made it to the national level, I competed in and won other spelling bees unrelated to Scripps, including the Utah Lutheran Schools State Spelling Bee and Association of Christian Schools International competitions.
I even had the opportunity to assist other spellers who made it to nationals and even had friends who made it to the championship finals of the competition, even before I started to do spelling bees.
Working with these spellers was truly invigorating as I got to see them cultivate a love for the English language, learn where our words come from, and develop life-long skills. The Bee prepares spellers to be lifelong learners, and many of them have excelled academically and in their careers.
The Bee is more than just the “luck of the draw” and memorization since many words can be deciphered through etymology (language of origin), combining forms/root woods, parts of speech, and the definitions.
While the Bee continues to be a symbol of American academic excellence, we are unfortunately witnessing a decline in educational standards due to the influence of political correctness and divisive ideologies.
For example, an ACT study from May 2022 found that while students’ grades were rising due to grade inflation, test scores have continued to decline. Indeed, school districts all over the country have changed their grading systems under the guise of “combating racism” with some policies only allowing 50% to be the lowest grade possible, and prohibiting teachers from penalizing students for late work.
While there are some students who may need that extra help due to extenuating circumstances, such policies can disincentivize some of the most talented students from working and studying hard. Moreover, it assumes that minorities are not able to excel without the change in grading policies, which undermines their potential.
Even the National Geographic Bee was permanently discontinued, ostensibly over issues of equitable participation.
At the Bee, all races and ethnicities have excelled at the competition without any affirmative action measures for any of the spellers. Both girls and boys, as well as virtually very race, have ranked high or won the Bee.
Hopefully the Bee never succumbs to the cultural pressures of political correctness or divisive ideology. It may be one of the few remaining educational institutions that celebrates academic excellence.
We must keep competitions like this merit-based to inspire and incentivize students to thrive academically for many years to come.