Wednesday, June 18, 2008

South Asians and Spelling Bees

If you've been watching the nationally televised Scripps National Spelling Bee the last few years then you've probably noticed an interesting trend. Though totaling just over two million people in the United States, those of South Asian descent dominate the national spelling bee. So why is it that a group of people that make up an extremely small percentage of the U.S. population have disproportionate numbers represented in this contest?

The BBC News attempts to answer this question in a recent article found here. Their reason? Family support and an emphasis on education.
"Chicago-based Dr Balu Natarajan, who won the Spelling Bee in 1985 and was a judge at this year's contest, says there is one common thread among nearly all winners regardless of ethnic background - extensive involvement and support from family.

"This is not a contest which many kids can win by preparing solely by themselves. I think that many South Asian families are willing and able to provide this level of support," said Dr Natarajan.
His parents helped him by finding word lists, looking up definitions and pronunciations and quizzing him on them. They even took days off work in order to help him prepare."
Another thing you'll notice when watching the spelling bee is that there is an inordinate number of homeschooled children competing. In addition, camera shots to the crowd reveal both a mom and a dad there cheering their children on.

I remember back to my elementary school years and my own participation in spelling bees. I was a good student, but really didn't put much time into preparing for the bee and typically exited fairly early on. But, for some reason, my third grade year I practiced a lot, studied the word lists each day and my dad put in the time to help me. Unbelievably, I won it that year. And in a school that was probably 85% white, the girl that came in second place guessed it, of South Asian descent.

Thanks to the BreakPoint blog for the tip on the article. Now if you want some Spelling Bee humor and you're a Napoleon Dynamite fan, then you'll want to check out this video clip below. Click here if the video player doesn't show.

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