Thus sprache Betsy

Betsy is a spelling bee fan, because it “teaches children the value of setting a goal and working to achieve it. . . . If they lose, they learn that life doesn’t end even if they don’t do as well as they had hoped.”

Her county canceled the spelling bee several years ago.

They gave several reasons, all asinine. One reason was that spelling was an archaic skill that, in the age of computers and spellcheckers, was just out of date. Students shouldn’t be spending time trying to memorize all these useless words like Ursprache. The other reason was that it was too damaging to the kids to have all of these students compete and so many end up losers because only one child could be crowned the winner. Of course, they would never cancel a sporting competition just because some kids might actually lose the competition, just an academic contest.


I used to think the self-esteem movement was a harmless fad. Actually, it’s done a great deal of harm.

About Joanne


  1. I’m ambivalent towards the spelling bee. I think I remember one person calling it “sanctioned child abuse” and while it’s a hyperbolic statement of course, for some of these kids it doesn’t seem very far off the mark. I watched Spellbound, and I just remember feeling very sorry for that Neil Kadakia kid. His father was so intense about the bee, it was scary!

    Not that I think spelling bees should be canceled on those grounds, or else all athletic competitions would have to be verboten as well. Any type of competition on that level will attract its share of nuts. It’s just…I was never an athletic kid, but I was a good speller. Plus, I had parents who were VERY into my being the best. My school never had spelling bees, thank goodness. Or else I might have gone crazy. For the SATs, I remember reviewing up to 500 words a day during the summer for the analogy section. Kids who brush up for serious spelling bees do even more, I think. I would have been in line for a serious nervous breakdown, literally.

  2. I realize that you’re playing the “Ursprache” card, but it should be Thus “spracht” (third person), not “sprache” (first person). 🙂

  3. Fatherofyoungones says:

    Harming a child’s self-esteem…. One can easily pick up numerous empirical works that have been published recently indicating that self-esteem interventions are fruitless. As I taught my undergraduates, self-esteem is a by-product of performance, feedback, and effort. If your performance is less than your best effort, your self-esteem should be also. We are causing harm to the children when we sever the link between self-esteem and life. Attempts to inflate a child’s self-esteem are fruitless unless the intervention targets improving the aspect of a child’s life that was lowering the self-esteem.

    Preparing for the spelling bee should make all the children better spellers. We should encourage all children to improve at spelling. If setting up competitions forwards that goal, then cancelling or banning competitions is hruting the efforts to help the children.

  4. SuperSub says:

    I almost think that if we promote academic excellence as much as we do athletic or performing arts… kids might just want to do well academically… nah, that’s a silly idea…

  5. cowboylogic says:

    Since when did self-esteem become based on the absence of failure as opposed to personal achievement? Furthermore, why should schools deny those who wish the opportunity to acheive, that opportunity? Is this a case of forcing us all to be equal in our ignorance?

  6. Self esteem is the *result* of achievement, not the cause of it. It amazes me how many people get that backwards.

  7. “Sprechen” is a strong verb, thus its simple past tense for the third person singular is “Betsy sprach.”

    If you wish for the present tense, it would be “Betsy spricht.”

    Memorization has its uses.

  8. Walter E. Wallis says:

    In California they are trying to convert high school into the special olympics of academics.

  9. When I was in 7th and 8th grades, I participated in spelling bees. (Went to the regional in 8th grade but went out early on a word I think I should have known, but missed, because I was nervous).

    I actually enjoyed it. I wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t pretty or popular, and I wasn’t an artist. It was one way I could excel. (And I won $20 one year as a prize for going as far as I did.)

    I had a “coach” – she was one of the 7th grade teachers – and she met with the spelling bee kids once a week after school to help us learn. She did a good job – never pushed us excessively (nor did my parents; they were just happy their shy kid was doing SOMETHING) and the coaching focused a lot on vocabulary building and also learning word “roots,” something I still find useful as an adult.

    I think that if they’re going to cancel bees on the argument that they make the kids who lose (or the kids who don’t make the cut) feel bad, then they also need to cancel sporting events, “prom queen” (or whatever) competitions, art competitions, etc., etc. However, I do think trying something and failing (or not doing as well as you like) is character-building; it is only through my personal failures that I learned resilience and that the world doesn’t end when I screw up.

  10. Iron Mike says:

    Did anyone else actually watch this spelling bee? These kids don’t just memorize a bunch of words out of context. They try to understand the underpinnings of any language that has contributed to words used in English. They have to learn the obvious Latin and Greek, but they obviously also studied up on French, Arabic, German, etc. They have to weigh the odds on which set of letters would most likely make up the sounds of words they haven’t heard or don’t remember. They have to prioritize their time on the most likely origins yet still brush up on less likely ones, so they have to learn an awful lot about the English language and its history. This hardly sounds trivial. History is trivial to those who don’t know much about it. Pretty much any academic pursuit can be considered trivial by those who don’t understand its complexity.

  11. Robert Schwartz says:

    Ursprache isn’t usless, if you are a professional linguist. However it is German. Why is part of an English spelling bee?

  12. Doug Sundseth says:

    “Ursprache isn’t usless, if you are a professional linguist. However it is German. Why is part of an English spelling bee?”

    For the same reason that “reconnaisance”, or “sudoku”, or “eigen vector”, or “agora”, or “vindaloo” might be included in a spelling bee. They’re used untranslated often enough that they have effectively been co-opted into English.

    English doesn’t have (and I hope never will have) an Academie Anglais that regulates the addition of new words.

  13. “I realize that you’re playing the “Ursprache” card, but it should be Thus “spracht” (third person), not “sprache” (first person). :-)”

    That’s all wrong! I mean totally wrong!

    When will schools make a serious effort to teach foreign langauges?

  14. I just want to know how she missed weltschmerz

  15. Schools not only are not going to make a serious effort to teach foreign languages, they’ve destroyed what little they were doing.

    It’s another case of “It’s always worse than you think.”

    These days schools teach “culture” when they teach a foreign language. They believe that you can’t learn the language without knowing the culture (something like that), so they just teach the culture.

    Our head of special ed told us schools are now teaching as many as 8 different foreign languages to grade schoolers. “They teach the culture,” he said.

  16. yo