Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Bee Season

Every time the Spelling Bee comes around, there are a bunch of posts - and ofcourse, associated comments - criticizing the event. They are quite mean-spirited, making fun of the kids and blaming the parents. So I just felt that someone should stand up for them.

The posts disparagingly call the kids geeks and social misfits. The funny thing is that these posts are not written by Olympic medallists or NBA players. They are penned by engineers and other professionals whose 'geekiness', so to speak, led to the academic achievements that helped them enter these professions in the first place. And is keeping them there. So ridiculing the kids in this fashion is plain hypocrisy on their part and a case of the pot calling the kettle black. That said, this post is more about the kids who participate in the Bee and other similar competitions.

The kids are seen as nerds and bookworms who spend their time memorizing the dictionary . Nothing could be further from the truth. These are kids who love the English language. They love reading, learning new words and understanding the way the words actually came about. It should be obvious that it is impossible to memorize all the words in the language. What these kids do is discern patterns in the words presented to them and then make educated, intelligent guesses about the spelling based on the language the word is derived from, the pronunciation, the definition, etc. Doing this in front of a big audience can't be easy and the kids display great poise and confidence when they do so. Belittling what they do as memorization is a colossal insult to their talent and ability.

The kids also don't focus on this at the expense of everything else. Kavya, this year's winner, learns the violin while Ramya, who tied for fifth place, teaches Tamil informally to other kids in her area. They are kids with great personality, a good sense of humor, nice friends and a wide range of ambitions and goals in life. Language is just a passion for them and being passionate about something does not automatically equate or translate to a neglect of everything else in life.

Now on to the parents. They are called pushy and are characterized as hard taskmasters who exhort their kids to do this. I can only assume that the people who see it this way don't have children. So they haven't experienced the thrill one feels on seeing our child do something well and haven't experienced the pride that comes out of our child winning something. It could be anything. When our child likes doing something, we let them do it. And when the child is also good at that, we do what we can to develop the talent. That's natural and that's what these parents are doing. What's so wrong in that?

Let's say the child of one these bloggers displays an affinity for spelling(which is quite possible because of the 'geek' gene they would undoubtedly inherit :). Is he/she going to be dejected, downplay the child's talent, dissuade him/her from honing the talent and getting recognized for it since its geeky and persuade him/her to enter sports? I don't think so for thats exactly what they accuse these parents of. And when they are melted by the pride on their child's face and cheer him/her on as he/she displays her talent, will they realize the errors in their remarks and insults? I sure hope so.

Not everyone shares passions for the same things in life. But that should not stop us from acknowledging and appreciating talent in others, especially kids, whatever area the talent may be in.


At 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, where did this come from?!!

At 1:48 AM, Blogger Sriram said...

It is more vayatherichal than anything else. Criticisers and belittle'ers secretly admire them.

At 2:34 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hit the nail on the head! The people who are criticizing and ridiculing the kids are plain jealous. Being a bookworm is considered degrading by those who read a book to save their life!

At 4:18 AM, Anonymous Prakash said...

BB, have you see 'Spellbound' yet?

Very nicely made movie. And it will help answer some of these critics. Yes, there are some overbearing parents, and there are some geeks. But it isn't like the Spelling Bee is the cause. Overbearing parents will find some way to be overbearing, geeky kids will find some way to display their geekiness.

'Spellbound' shows a good cross section.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

are you just setting the stage so that when kavya becomes the queen bee, you are called "overbearing' nor is she called a "geek"!!

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous kumari said...

Well written.Point taken.

I have a question for you: What about kids who enter Beauty Pageants?
I have seen documentaries where a 5 year old is shrieking as she is spray-tanned, an 8yr old is asked to tweeze her eyebrows and shave her legs and walk in high heels.[Some kids do love it and enjoy being in the spotlight but some do it coz mommy wants them to]

So do we judge these parents as overbearing and trying to live their dreams through their kids?
If yes, then I feel we are hypocrites.

Is Spelling Bee acceptable because it is 'educational'? Are beauty pageants bad because they make dolls of our kids and make them give importance to fluff and material stuff?

P.S: i love Spelling Bees. But I just wanted to know your opinion on this discussion as I hate beauty pageants :) That would make me a hypocrite I guess:)

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well written kumari. Although I feel exactly as Balaji egarding spelling bee contest and the kids who participate in it, there is a certain amount of compulsion too involoved. That is probably what makes the critics talk. as they are'critics', they just go overboard when trying to make their point.


At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was waiting for someone to start the "bee-war(e)", as I am a passive reader of all the blogs I can guess what triggered you to come with this post.
I agree and disagree with the so called "crtics". Kids or esp teenagers doesnt exactly know what/where their interests lie,even their passions, what they want. If they show some signs of excellence or interest in one area, then parents take it as their responsibility to mould them in that way. Partly parents to be blamed as well- if they see other kids doing/performing well then they give in to the pressure( u can say "parent pressure")and want their kids to do the same.
IMHO, I dont find anything wrong in spelling bee.
-From another aspiring parent to see her child on stage(music, dance, science, spelling bee, anything will do)some day

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Prakash said...

Kumari, hmmm, I never thought about the point you raised, but you are right. I dislike beauty pageants in general, and especially hate the ones with kids. And I don't have a problem with Spelling Bee.

I guess your counters are the same ones I can come up with - dolling up is a grown up thing, and it's bad to put kids through it ...

At 12:03 PM, Blogger karthik sp said...

Well Said BB

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Sreekrishnan said...

Its not ridiculing the kids, but this doesnt make sense. This competition doesnt make sense to me. Frankly, if my kid wants to join - i wouldnt mind and i would cheer for the fact that there is a "Win" and Participation - but in no means this competition is an indication of what the kid is capable.

I am sure more parents are looking to force kids to such meaning less competitions, just because 7 Indian kids came there ...

And this kids will grow up to use Auto Correct in Outlook or SMS english ! :)

Unfortunate that a Media Hype has created impact as though this is Olympiad or Mensa exams !

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

anon, I think the 1st line made that clear :)

sriram, admiration or not, a li'l appreciation never hurt anybody :)

rockus, i'm not even saying that they're jealous. i'm just saying that not liking something is not an excuse for criticizing and ridiculing when someone else is doing it well :)

prakash, i think u've mentioned that film b4 too but i haven't had a chance to see it yet.

oh yeah, i'm sure there are overbearing parents and geeky kids. but a blanket categorization (and criticism) of kids who take part in the Bee is what I don't like :)

anon, if that does happen, I think i'd be so elated that I wouldn't care who was calling her geeky or me overbearing. this was just for the kids who r there already :)

kumari, "Well written.Point taken. " - likewise! but i think beauty pageants are different because the kids are asked to behave like adults. the things u mention are not things kids do normally. but spelling is part of everyday life and its just these kids like it and their parents help develop it and gain recognition for it. talking of beauty pageants, the parades(like the halloween parade) in kids' schools are essentially pageants too. but kids like to dress up and show off. and its done in a nice, friendly environment.

so no, i don't like beauty pageants either but thats cos kids are not allowed to be kids in those. but kids are still kids in the Bee, just that they like to spell more :)

anon, there have been discussions on this on this blog too about the role of parents. but it was ridiculing the kids and belittling their achievements that led to this particular post :)

anon, your signature said it perfectly. every parent wants to see their child shine at something. but i believe that we see what the kid likes and then do what we can to help them shine in that. if the child isn't interested, no amount of pushing is gonna make the child shine, which is why in the case of the Bee, i believe the kids actually love the language and their performance is just an expression of that :)

karthik, thanx :)

sreekrishnan, its definitely not an indication of what a kid is capable of. just 1 way of giving some kids recognition for something they do well. any competitions is that way :)

LOL on the Auto correct & SMS :)

At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Prakash said...

bb, yes, I have mentioned it before. And yes, you should check it out.

sreekrishnan, initially I too didn't understand why spelling long words was such a big deal. But then, what's the big deal about hitting a small ball 100m in the air, or putting a stupid ball through a basket in the air, or ...? :-)

At 1:58 PM, Anonymous ram said...

very nice and sensitive post, BB...really liked your choice of words in support of the kids.

i just hope that the kids (and the parents) focus more on the experience than winning or losing...

At 7:51 PM, Blogger Unknown said...



was going to say something similar. not one of those kids seemed sad when they came to that mic.

thanks again.

At 10:55 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

prakash, exactly! everything needs talent and takes practice and we need to learn to appreciate that :)

ram, thanx! I think every one of those kids will be better off for the experience :)

sundar, you're welcome. and no, they definitely didn't :)

At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what is the use of any kid giving Musical concert, dance arangetram, or even exceling in all those extra curricular activities? It all helps their overall personality.
The first Indian- Nupur who won the Spelling Bee is a research assistant in MIT now, not that she got it because of winning Spelling Bee, but they are intelligent enough and also have their interests in spellings and language.

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The kids are talented, worked hard and acheived the bee level out of their own interest.

chee chee indha pazham pulikkum kadhai dhan. If you don't have it, then ridicule or look down on those who have it. Shows how immature some people can be!


At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not some people, but hawkeye.

horrible fella

At 9:41 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

swapna, exactly! putting aside the actual spelling part, the Bee helps kids learn new things, increase concentration, not be afraid of speaking in public, etc. :)

san, "If you don't have it, then ridicule or look down on those who have it" - exactly! people have to realize there are other sentiments like acknowledgement, appreciation, etc. even when we don't do the same things :)

anon, yeah, that's kinda an annual tradition from him I think :)

At 12:00 AM, Blogger Nagesh.MVS said...

Good Tradition.

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