It was thrilling to see 13 year old Arvind Mahankali of Bayside, New York, win the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC on Thursday evening.
His accomplishment, and the fact that he had competed three earlier years and been in the Top Ten all three times, is something to honor and admire, as much as any athlete doing well in any team or individual sport.
But does such an accomplishment get the kind of attention it deserves, as compared to sports? Of course not, and in that, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
It is not “cool” to be smart, to be intellectual, to have academic skills, and it might very well be that this talented young man, for all that he has accomplished, might face bullying or taunting, as not being “masculine” enough, because his accomplishment is in that lost art, spelling.
But it is not just spelling; it is also history; it is also science; it is also geography; it is also poetry; it is also ANY intellectual area of knowledge!
And in that fact, we have a long range problem. And it is in the loss of economic growth, competition with other nations, and in the future of our children.
Why is not spelling emphasized in the school system, and why is it allowed that young people, including many of my own students in the past and present, cannot spell, and do not see that weakness as a big deal they need to work on?
Why is it that ignorance is seen as bliss, and that we have people in Congress who display their ignorance regularly, showing their lack of knowledge or acceptance of science, of truth really in any area of learning, and in fact, wish to cut expenditures and investment in education and in teachers?
And as wonderful as it was to see boys and girls of South Asian heritage being the top ten finalists, why is it that white Anglos of European heritage, and Hispanics-Latinos and African American young people did not end up competing with these kids from South Asia, and often in the past, from East Asia as well?
Could it be the role of parents, emphasizing spelling and history and science and geography and poetry and other fields of learning at home, and could it be also the fact that education is the way that past generations of immigrants and their descendants succeeded in America?
We, as a nation, need to look within ourselves, and work to promote the levels of excellence that these children of South Asian heritage demonstrated, putting the rest of us to shame!
Ultimately, we must praise and give honors and attention more to academic excellence than our worship of sports, as good as it is to promote that field of human endeavor!