It’s Time to Kill Off the Scripps Spelling Bee

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Sarah Kliff provides the basic argument for killing off the spelling bee:

Here’s how the final round of the Spelling Bee works. Once the competition is narrowed to two or three competitors, officials go to a list of 25 words. These are supposed to be the Bee’s hardest words, reserved for the very top contenders.

….But something weird happened in 2014: Both finalists got all their words right. It happened again in 2015….Co-championships used to be rare in the spelling bee world. Before 2014, there had only been three such instances in the Bee’s 90-year history. And now we’ve had the unprecedented situation of back-to-back co-champions. All because we’re running out of words that are too hard to spell.

I’ve been unhappy about the spelling bee for years. For starters, I don’t like the idea of national TV coverage for kids that young. Like the Little League World Series, it becomes an ever bigger television spectacle every year, and I just flatly think that’s wrong. At the very least, we should wait until kids are in high school before they get that much pressure dumped on them.

There’s also the fact that the bee has become cool at precisely the time that no one cares about spelling anymore. Computers have made it an obsolete skill, so the bee reinforces the notion that academic prowess is dumb and nerdy. Look at all those kids spending thousands of hours practicing something of no use whatsoever! Suckers!

Finally, as Kliff points out, the bee has finally been hacked. Unlike most competitions, spelling bees have a ceiling. If you can spell every word in the dictionary, you’re done. You’re the best speller that will ever live. And that makes it time to retire the trophy.

I’m all in favor of academic competitions. Maybe ESPN could hire some color commentators and televise the Academic Decathlon or something. That’s mostly for high school juniors and seniors, which is fine, and there’s no ceiling on the competition. If the kids keep getting better, just make the questions harder. Or maybe ESPN should make up its own academic version of American Ninja Warrior. “No one has ever made it through the trigonometry ladder in less than two minutes, but it might happen tonight! Tune in!”

But the spelling bee? It had a great run. Now it’s time to end it.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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