Young spellers teach us a lesson

Plenty of the headlines these days are Bad news with a capital “B.” What seems to be going on all around us is disheartening, to say the least.

An occasional ray of sunshine breaks through, however. Consider the national spelling bee:

Earlier this year, organizers of the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee announced the event would not be held this year, because of the COVID-19 epidemic. Each year, the country’s top young spellers compete in local and regional events for the right to go to Washington for the national competition. Imagine the disappointment of youngsters who worked for months, even years, to get there.

But wait. Two teenagers who had competed in the past wondered why the national bee had to be called off entirely. So they put together a substitute, using an online meeting program. It is the SpellPundit National Online Spelling Bee.

By itself, there is nothing unusual or particularly inspiring about that. Many people have used technology to adapt to life amid a pandemic.

You ask, however, about cheating. How is it possible to hold a spelling bee online, with competitors in their own homes, not monitored to ensure they did not consult their dictionaries?

On the honor system, of course. You remember that.

Competitors in the SpellPundit bee were told to sign in to the online meeting, with cameras showing them as they were given words, then had to spell them. They were told to be alone in their rooms, keeping their hands in view as they spelled.

Some decided to leave no doubt. They put their hands up, palms forward, as they spelled.

Yes, it still would have been possible to cheat. But during one semifinal event last week, six of the seven competitors misspelled their words. Clearly, they weren’t cheating.

These are elementary and middle school students, just kids. Yet competing on a level playing field — honestly — means something to them. Perhaps they are providing a lesson to many older people.

Obviously, at least among the younger generation, a significant number of those around us know how to spell one word:



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