The 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion Snigdha Nandipati (Pic: Screengrab from www.spellingbee.com)
Instead of asking her to spell ‘guetapens’, the winner of the the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee last night should have been asked to spell her own name: Snigdha Nandipati. (Oh, that’s really so mature of me.)
It was only yesterday that I compared chess with the National Spelling Bee for their lack of spectacle if they are to be treated as sports. I stand slightly corrected. Since the spelling bee involves children, there is much more animation to them than chess. After all many of them do spell words with their index finger in the air or on their palms. Some of them even make corrections by scratching out invisible words they have just spelled invisibly. And for their sheer drama, who can beat those gigantic name tags, practically the size of a decent sized Times Square billboard, that the spellers are made to wear?
Snigdha’s win comes less than a week after Rahul Nagvekar won the 2012 National Geographic Bee.
The 2012 National Geographic Bee champion Rahul Nagvekar (Pic: Screengrab from a Nat geo video)
I will now strongly and successfully resist the temptation of gleaning any stereotypes here from the fact that both the bees this year were won by children of a certain ethnic background. However, in keeping with the often overriding mood of this blog, I will gleefully wonder if braces are a mandatory nerdwear. Both Snigdha and Rahul, and more often than not others as well, do wear braces.
Notwithstanding the sniggering tone of the post, I actually think it is commendable that these children are able to invest their energies with such passion in pursuit of knowledge and information. While at some level both these contests are about memory, they are more about being able to intelligently construct and deconstruct. In their preparation for the contests I am sure they do end up expanding their knowledge base which is always a good thing.
The participants in these contests usually have an identifiable scholarly trajectory that eventually takes them to professions of larger consequence which, I suppose, is also a good thing.
That said it is obvious that children and parents of only a certain temperament are able to commit themselves to the spelling bees or geographic bees because they require intense preparation to the exclusion of what most normal people would regard as normal life. I have seen parents of these children get tightly wound up and annoyingly competitive. There is a certain dour intensity to the whole process of learning that attends such preparation.
You may find it hard to discern what it is that I am objecting to here or whether I am objecting to anything at all. It is neither. I am merely making unsolicited observations about things we do. On balance, we are better off with these bees than without them.