Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Spelling bees and equality

Today I found an article (here) about a school district that decided to cancel a spelling bee so that.... well, I can't follow their reasoning. If I understand this logic the spelling bee was cancelled so that kids could be successful. Assistant Superintindent of schools Linda Newman stated that "No Child Left Behind says all kids must reach high standards," Newman said. "It’s our responsibility to find as many ways as possible to accomplish this."

Ok, if I remember from my experiences with spelling bees many students participated. I participated in bees. I was busy as a bee, so to speak, learning the words on the list. I derived a lot of benefit from studying my word lists. I think what small ability I have in spelling today is because of bees. Yes, I got nervous. Yes, I was disappointed when I did not win. The adults around me had the sense to things to the effect of "you win some and you lose some, try again next time". I did try harder next time. And the next time I won. The person who was 2nd was a very near second. In other words the effort everyone put in raised everyone up.

When a group of students compete over a set of things to learn, they study harder than they normally would because they are inspired. They all improve. Yes, there certainly is one winner. Uh, the fact is that someone knows one more word than everyone else. And, yes, those students were disappointed momentarily. But, most, if not all of them, were inspired to come back and try again. That is they would unless the adults around them actually did make them feel inadequate.

A few years - ok I lied - many years ago I played trumpet with some degree of excellence. At that time I wanted to be a professional performer. I went to an audition to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. When I arrived there were already over 100 trumpet players there. When we started to warm up, it was soon apparent that the competition was going to be stiff, then one more player started warming up. He was able to do things that I didn't until that time believe human beings could do. He played like I imagine Gabriel must play. His playing was magnificent. He got the job, should have gotten the job because on that day at that time he was the best player. As I talked to other players after the day was concluded, I found no one --- no one --- who felt belittled or hurt. To a person everyone was ready to go to a practice room and get to work. That competition was so inspiring because I was able to see a goal that I could take on. And, I reached it. I wish I could say that I went back again and won the day, but the job didnt open again when I wanted it. But, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

What can an administrator possibly think. One thing I know without a doubt is that anyone who can cancel an event has never taken part in such an event. If they had they would understand what the competition does --- it inspires. IT INSPIRES! It makes one want to be as good as that student, because you know that you put on your pants the same way in the morning. It doesn't depress your or make you want to quit school. No, it makes you want to do it again. Can these people understand that when many people reach for excellence they all get better.

This is another one of those examples of aggressive stupidity that harms kids. This school district was not happy to just find something stupid to do. No, they took their stupidity and aggressively used it against the kids. That I cannot abide.

In taking away the spelling bee the geniuses in the Lincoln School District choose to take away a huge incentive for exellence. Instead of hundreds of kids working hard on those spelling lists learning those words, non will be. They have strangled savagely to death one of the golden gooses of motivation - striving for excellence.

Ok, Assistant Superintendent Newman try to rub two brain cells together to get a spark and see if you can listen for a bit. Kids do best when they have a goal to work toward. Kids work hardest to learn when they are all trying to reach a goal. Yes, one kid will get the trophy, but all of them will have worked harder and will be better for it.

I hate to do it but Assistant Superintendent Newman you must turn in you right to be around any living child today. Your very presence is harmful to learning. You must go to the back room because you are an embarrasement to the profession. You should go there and hide in shame. Then please prepare a resignation letter that you will hand in to resign your job before you do any more damage. Until you rethink your philosophy, find out what universe you are in and get back to ours, you are USELESS. You are doing actual harm to the ability of children to learn. You are completely without understanding. Please resign now ----- or some superior please fire her before she does any more damage to the kids in your district. In fact, please do not allow this person around kids because she does not believe that kids can learn. If she did believe that all kids can learn, she would praise the effort the kids put out on spelling bees. She is without understanding and is completely incompetent in her job. Please someone get this person out of her position before she can do any more damaging things to the kids. Rid your school district of this Newman plague before it crosses into the distant lands where there may yet be some learning going on....



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