Where Are You Going Braveheart? To the Spelling Bee!
The story of English spelling is the story of thousands of people – most totally unknown – who left a permanent imprint on our Western culture. In fact, the English language is the first truly global language with an unparalleled success story of adaptation, evolution and survival. And, yet, as a language, it is the “great integrator”, with words and concepts borrowed from hundreds of other tongues. The miracle of language is the foundation of all learning, which is why it occupies a place of honor in the curricula of the West. Today, the English language continues to be one of the world’s greatest growth industries, adding more than a thousand new words a year to its inventory. Is it any wonder, then, that we at Matthews Hall value events like our annual spelling bee?
Since words are the building blocks of thought, every parent and teacher understands the need for children to learn effective, accurate and powerful ways of communicating in speech and in writing. If we can’t spell words, we can’t communicate some of our more nuanced thoughts. A rich vocabulary and an understanding of how the rules (and exceptions!) of language work is an essential goal throughout elementary school. Spelling is for everyone and should not be viewed as the private domain of some specialized subset of bookworms!
I was so impressed by each finalist in this week’s house league spelling bee! To begin with, it takes moxie to stand in front of a crowd and spell increasingly challenging words without the benefit of pencil and paper. Spelling aloud is a special type of skill that combines visual and auditory learning in a “public speaking pressure cooker”. If one of the greatest fears of the average adult is speaking in front of a group, we should all be impressed by the efforts of each of our contestants, who demonstrated composure and poise under fire from the dictionary!
Why participate in a Spelling Bee? Many question the value of spelling bees, complaining that they force children to perform mindless rote-memorization in a high pressure and potentially traumatizing environment. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While students who reach the highest levels of such national contests may end up competing on television (…sometimes even for a large sum of prize money!), they are also learning valuable life skills to help them manage such situations.
Competitors gain the experience necessary to develop a healthy sense of sportsmanship and friendly rivalry, while learning how to both win and lose with grace. Students are encouraged to interact with each other and connect over a mutual interest in language. They also gain confidence by performing in public. If athletics and sports are viewed as healthy outlets for competitive spirit, why not intellectual events like “Language Olympics”? Spelling bees provide students who have an interest in language with the same opportunity to compete, perform and experience those valuable life lessons on their own terms.
I, for one, am proud of this year’s spelling contestants and congratulate each of them for their good sportsmanship, self-confidence and house league spirit. I will never forget my own first spelling bee experience in Grade 4 or 5 – nor the word that eliminated me.
As a result, I have never misspelled the word “vacuum” again – those pesky exceptions!!
Ric Anderson, Head of School