What the Deuce: Spelling Bee Lawsuit

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Spelling Bee Lawsuit

There are few shows on TV that still grab my attention to the point I'll stop what I'm doing and just watch. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is one of them. It could be the middle of the night and my girlfriend could be calling me to bed and I'd still watch (yes, I know I have problems, major problems).

In fact, this actually happened to me this past December and my girlfriend and I ended up watching a rerun of the 2004 Bee. My girlfriend had never watched one; her only experience with the Bee was watching Spellbound on DVD. If you haven't seen it, its a documentary that follows around contestants from around the country on their road to Washington DC, the home of the National Bee.

I get lots of enjoyment from watching the Bee for a multitude of reasons. The most obvious is the suspense right before a kid has to spell his word. As a viewer, you will get pulled in. I mean, where else can you see elementary aged kids spell words that most people couldn't spell let alone pronounce?

More funny are the moments of subtle humor. I always crack up when a speller second guesses the moderator, Dr. Alex Cameron. Without fail, he tilts his head down, peers over the top of his glasses, and rudely says, "no" with a look that says "kid, you've memorized the dictionary, you're surprised at this?"

Speaking of memorizing the dictionary, these kids actually do memorize the dictionary. One year after a speller was eliminated, he said the interviewer, "I guess I have to go back and memorize the dictionary again."

These contestants are freak shows. Society shuns parents that push their kids in sports, but some of these parents are just as bad. In Spellbound, a parent got his kid a tutor, language coaches (so he could learn the roots of words), and made the kid spell an inordinate number of words everyday. On top of that, the parents paid people in India to pray for the kid and promised a temple something like 5,000 meals if he won the Bee. I would make a snide comment here, but its really not necessary. Just read the paragraph again to see how out of control this event has become.

My girlfriend said these kids are case studies for social disorders. Most look like they just woke up: their Bee issued shirts about eight sizes too big, coke bottle glasses, uncombed hair, and splints on injured fingers (don't ask, cause I don't know). A vast majority of the kids are homeschooled and have hobbies like "throwing rocks" and "playing video games."

Watch the interviews and see how socially deficient they are. Rebecca Sealfon, after winning the Bee, could barely interact with the interviewer. She went to grab the microphone, couldn't formulate coherent sentences, and even said the Bee was a bad idea because of the pressure it puts on the contestants. My girlfriend saw her on tv, turned to me, and in all seriousness said, "I think she's autistic."

What makes the Bee so fun, though, is the antisocial behavior. One of my favorite moments of the bee was when a speller fainted on stage. While he was passed out on the ground, no one came to his assistance. Fortunately, he picked himself up, spelled the word, and acted like nothing had happened.

So you may be asking, why am I rambling about the spelling bee? This is why. This poor girl got eliminated incorrectly and instead of being rude and causing a scene, her parents decided to be polite and wait until the end of the Bee to file a complaint. The judge's response was to say that they should have protested right away, like an NFL coach challenging a bad call.

What bothers me about all of this is that this is the last year the girl is eligible to participate in the Bee. And even though she may be a freak show, this is something she's been practicing for and it would be wrong to have her eliminated because some idiotic adult couldn't spell, hear, and prematurely ring a bell. Of course, the family has now responded by threatening to sue the school district. Only in America.


I have changed my stance. As the rules state, a speller must challenge right away. If the girl didn't know the rules, too damn bad. Luckily the participants in the potential lawsuit have come to an accord. The top 3 speller in the county will go to the Nevada state Bee in Las Vegas (I wonder if the books will take bets on who will win or faint... what's the over/under on participants that are homeschooled?). Read about it here.


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