The decline of the bee

At the Spelling Bee, a New Word Is M-O-N-E-Y – Elite spellers now can pay to get a spot in the national event. For this generation of zealous competitors, it just means another chance to shine:

An extra factor driving the stakes for this generation of spellers is a concerted effort by non-U.S.-born parents, particularly Indian-Americans, to make a mark on the competition. In 1985, Balu Natarajan was the first child of immigrants to win the Scripps bee. Of the 33 contests since then, fellow Indian-Americans have won 17 more, including the last 11 straight.

Indian-Americans, just 1% of the U.S. population, have established their own minor-league spelling bee circuit that adds opportunities to hone on-stage performance. They have led the way in paying for coaching, buying or developing proprietary study software and traveling to participate in more bees. Many spellers’ parents came to the U.S. via the Immigration Act of 1990 that admitted exceptionally skilled immigrants who specialize in STEM topics. It is no mystery that they would value education—and recognition of it—above all else; it is the very thing that gave them access to this country.

Reminds me of the stuff in Jerry Muller’s The Tyranny of Metrics. Now that the national bee is going in this direction it will be impossible to reverse the trend and make it a test of childhood exuberance and passion, as it was until recently. Rather, it will be just another part of the meritocratic conveyer belt, another notch in one’s resume or c.v.

And, unfortunately, it illustrates one of the effects of the rise of Asian American immigrant parents, who come from extremely competitive societies, and so bring the same ethos to the United States. Childhood in the old sense is disappearing, as people begin to prepare their children for adult roles in the economy before they enter elementary school.

16 thoughts on “The decline of the bee”

  1. Sad. I have heard back in India, we have now coaching centers and exams In various top notch schools , just to get into the nursery or lower primary

  2. I was sh*t at spelling bees. When I was 8, I lost one in the first round when I spelled “eloquent” as “illoquent.” I was really bummed at the time.

    Now I just laugh it off, and think “illoquent” would be a pretty good name for a hip hop artist.

  3. Yep.

    FWIW, a Bengali kid won the school spelling bee. He’s now a surgery resident, we’re still friends. 🙂

    1. we have the technology. we can build a better brown:

      a bengali mouth
      a mangalorean face
      a UPite fist
      guju wallet
      punjabi height
      iyer brain

      1. Anyhow , we have Gujju face, UP mouth, punjabi brain, Iyer fist , Bengali wallet and manglorean height. That is Indian democracy for you.

  4. Spelling bee is idiotic activity. What the waste of energy and time. It is maybe appropriate for morons.
    For example, Serbian language is phonetic. Any foreigner needs only 5 minutes to learn alphabet and read any text without mistake. Kids 3-4 years can read texts without to complicated long scientific words. Spelling does not exist and the known idiotic – what’s your name? sorry, how do you spell it because I am not able to write your name. Maybe because the Serbian language is 10000 years old and English only 800.

  5. “Maybe because the Serbian language is 10000 years old and English only 800. ”


    “The official language [of Serbia] is Serbian, native to 88% of the population. … Serbian Cyrillic is designated in the Constitution as the “official script” and was devised in 1814 by Serbian philologist Vuk Karadžić, who based it on phonemic principles, while the Latin alphabet is given status of “script in official use” by the constitution.”

    “In 9th Century, Old Church Slavonic was adopted as the language of the liturgy in churches serving various Slavic nations. This language was gradually adapted to non-liturgical purposes … Old Slavonic developed into the Serbo-Croatian variant of Church Slavonic between the 12th and 16th centuries.

    “English is a West Germanic language that originated from Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain in the mid 5th to 7th centuries AD by Anglo-Saxon settlers. … The Anglo-Saxon language [is] now called Old English …”

    “Most native English speakers today find Old English unintelligible, even though about half of the most commonly used words in Modern English have Old English roots”

    “After the Norman conquest in 1066, Old English was replaced … known now as Middle English. … The system of orthography that was established during the Middle English period is largely still in use today. Later changes in pronunciation, however, combined with the adoption of various foreign spellings, mean that the spelling of modern English words appears highly irregular.

    Modern English (… as opposed to Middle English and Old English) is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, which began in the late 14th century and was completed in roughly 1550. … texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern English

    1. My assertion about relationship between the ages of languages and ‘spelling bee’ was of course a joke although I seriously think that this activity can be used as a moron therapy. It only confirms the imperfection and irrationality of the English language which Bernard Rasel tried to make phonetic and logical.

      So many wiki citations which selectively present facts and give a false picture. For example, which Slavic nations existed at 800AC? Croats (who are 80+% Serbs) adopted Serbian language as their language 150 years ago. What is the term ‘Old Church Slavonic’ which is regularly used by wiki? What about Vinca’s alphabet, the oldest in the world, from which are now used 26/30 letters in modern Serbian alphabet?

      The alphabet used by Etruscans before they founded the city of Rome. Their texts were deciphered in 1985 by Serbian priest, he wrote the book, other guys write theses about their legal system written in them, but wiki still says that their origin is still unknown. There are so many wiki/youtube discussions about this ‘mysterious’ alphabet. For many years linguists tried to decipher Etruscan text using all European languages and dozens of African (!) dialects but, coincidentally, not the Serbian which is the nearest and despite Serbs founded Venezia and many were Roman Emperors.

      English language was almost extinct in 12c.AC and it was preserved in monasteries. According to your surname, your origin is Polish or Ukrainian. From which language these languages originated?

      Finally, a very serious question for which I cannot get any answer. That would be a huge contribution to the world science and would clarify many issues discussed at this blog.
      Which language was spoken in Europe 2000BC (or 1000 or 3000 or 5000BC)?

  6. Milan,

    You need some help. This is not a pro-Serbian blog. This blog pertains to South Asians. Please go somewhere where your erroneous claims are accepted.

    1. “Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Milan has some part to play in it, for good or evil, before this is over.”

      1. Razib is correct.

        Brown_Pundit_Man, I learn a lot from Milan. It is “possible” that Serbia contributed a lot to Turin, SAARC and South East Asian culture and technology. There are eerily deep similarities.

        I think Milan should write a detailed referenced article series describing the synchronicity between Serbian, Sumerian and Arya culture/technology.

        I think we have had “lost” past ages of globalization. For example the great saints (who Buddha referenced) are narratively described as arriving in Turan/SAARC (I don’t know where they arrived) via ship after a great global flood.

        I don’t know where they arrived from.

        What is known is that Sumerian culture and Arya culture claims descent from them.

        Walter Sobchak, I don’t think you and Milan are discussing the same thing. I think Milan is discussing Vinča culture (please correct me if I am wrong). I have thought of writing a detailed post about this . . . but there are many other topics I would love to discuss first.

        To totally change the topic, I think that Serbia could become one of India’s most important allies. The world would greatly benefit from this.

    2. let me be clearer to you: i do find milan bemusing and off-base quite often personally. but he seems such a person of good-cheer and sincerity that i cannot but help and indulge him his beliefs, whatever they may be. on occasion, he may seem a bit pompous, but there is an openness and kindness in his bearing that, a reaching toward mutual understanding even though we may never reconcile.

      this is in contrast to another commenter, who is the dunning-krueger effect manifest.

      also, recently i wrote an article on evolution in national review.

      religious conservatives disagreed, but on the whole, they were kind and condescending.

      in contrast, the left accused me of being a genocidal transphobe and homophobe.

      i think i agree with the left on evolution. but the left behaved in an inhuman beastly manner, reaffirming that though i think the right misses the truth on many things, it is the home of humanity dignity as opposed to maoism.

  7. To change the topic a bit, what the spelling bee symbolizes is how people of certain “Asian” ancestry ethnic groups and certain “caucasian” (whatever that means) ethnic groups are increasingly academically dominating the world.

    In time this might lead to socio-economic dominance along several verticals.

    This poses great long term dangers to high performing ethnics.

    Andrew Yang recently warned that the anger against Jews might soon become common against Asians. And that Asians might be attacked as often as Jews are attacked (including via synagogue shootings). This is why Asians have to help solve America’s problems. {I would add global problems.} This is yet another reason why Asians should be open to something similar to universal basic income. UBI might limit future anti Asian xenophobia and anger.

    Does everyone else agree?

  8. @Brown_Pundit_Man

    Your comment says much more than you intended. First, it is apparent racial. It can be seen from your nickname. You are implying that there is not a place for me here regardless of my comments. Moreover, you are implying that I am not normal and that I need help. I am only one of few here who writes under real name. I have never seen your nickname, you can be anyone, maybe even not brown. Can you tell us what is your real name or you are simply a frustrated coward?

    Second, I never write out of the topic. Is the ‘spelling bee’ a brown topic? I am just replying to WS comment. I cannot see bad intentions in his comment, only lack of information (this is reasonable considering that he could not find hidden information). I do write only about topics which are common for Serbia and SA (ancient and recent history, Aryans, common heritage, muslims, Sanskrit, mythology, religion, historical falsifications, geopolitics, culture, US and West, military, genetics, male/female things, etc.).

    Some people agree with my comments, some disagree. I haven’t seen that anyone found something erroneous in my comments. Have you? Even if there are some mistakes does it mean that this guy should be banned? And who is to decide about this? Have you found and sent warning to anyone else who made erroneous comments, or this is not applicable to brown people?

    Your apparent frustration is based on something else. I can only suppose (you are not the only one) that my new information about our common ancient past irritate some circles in a similar way (true, much less) as the recent T.Joseph’s book, which stated that long time ago someone came here from outer of SA. And now, with exact genetics data, it is proving to be the true. I have also noticed some frustration and noticeable ignorance of my question why India’s PM Vajpayee stopped World Aryan Jat Foundation Congress.

    Anyway, this comment coincides with my personal schedule which is pretty tight at the moment. Maybe it is a good time to take some indefinite time off. Mostly, it was my pleasure to read and participate in all discussions, regardless of (dis)agreements. Those who are genuinely interested to research their roots may find many useful information provided by me which are or suppressed or not available in a public domain. Few undertaken bigger topics may wait for some other opportunity. Thanks to blog admins, keep doing good job. Cheers to everyone!

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