Kiddo#1 enjoys glorious victory despite the self-esteem movement

Kiddo#1 came home quite excited: he’d won the school spelling bee.

He’s been working with a seventy-five page list of esoteric words for a while, on and off, glancing at them before going about his daily life. Every day last week, his class had a spelling bee practice, and on Wednesday, he won it. He did it again on Friday. He hadn’t even thought he’d go to the school bee. They had the schoolwide bee, and he was the top winner.

For the record I will state that he in no way inherited any spelling ability from me. I stank at spelling. It must be from his father.

At any rate, he told me all the details, which was his winning word (albatross) and that his teacher was stunned he missed “abacus” for the win. (I am too: the kid knows how to use an abacus and owns a book on the abacus.) He asked me why I hadn’t come to see him.

Me: You didn’t tell me I could come or when it was.
Him: It was at one-thirty.
Me: That doesn’t help me NOW, does it?

He goes to the city-wide spelling bee in a few weeks. He’s already planning for what will happen after that: “the state-wide, then the nationals, then the internationals, then the galactic, then the intergalactic…”

The school gave him a Scrabble game, a word jumble game, a certificate, and a ribbon. “I should have gotten a blue ribbon,” he told me, “but it’s green.”

He handed it over, and it says “Participant.” They also gave him a certificate. It says “This is to honor Kiddo#1 Philangelus for participating in the Schoolwide Spelling Bee.”

Gee, THANK YOU to the self-esteem movement. We can’t possibly allow anyone to feel bad, so the winner mustn’t appear any different than any other participant. Won’t that just motivate him to do his best? And I’m not just saying that: I’ve railed about the self-esteem movement before in both Mothering Magazine and The Wittenburg Door.

Now here’s something interesting: while he was telling me about one of the practice bees, he told me he’d gotten a word he couldn’t figure out how to spell.

“So then,” he said, “it was a miracle from my guardian angel: I pictured what the paper with that word on it looked like, and then I read the word off the paper in my head.”


Right. I have no idea what to make of that. He said it with a little awe but not realizing just how phenominal such a thing is. Just to be able to visually recreate a list of spelling words in his head and read the word off the page. Although to be fair, he said it only happened that one time. (But still!)

He’s delighted and I’m delighted for him. That’s very cool.


  1. Diinzumo

    From the way you described it, I wasn’t sure if he’d actually won or not. It’s terrible that we feel we have to be so politically correct that a child could be fooled into believing he really did something special only if he was just a “participant.”

    I got a “participant” bowling trophy when I was eight. I was not thrilled by that. Even all those years ago, who did they think they were fooling?

  2. Cricket

    I hear you on the self-esteem movement taking away the pride of accomplishment. At least they gave him other recognition.

    I’m all for participant ribbons for the rest. It acknowledges that they tried something new — that’s something you can build self-esteem on. But by his age, kids recognize that, yes, there is often a winner. They should be allowed to enjoy it, not feel guilty for making others lose.

    I used to be able to look at a word and tell you if it was spelled right. I still visualize them when helping son with his spelling. They don’t just appear, though; I have to choose to imagine the word written down.

    Now, though, looking for that red squiggle underneath and right-clicking for the right spelling has become a stronger habit than actually looking at the letters. Sigh.

    Congrats to him for harnessing another learning channel! (Oh, and congrats for doing so well in the bee!)

  3. philangelus

    The principal called me today to congratulate him, so that’s confirmation I guess. It’s just kind of puzzling that if he’d been abducted by aliens on the way home, and all I’d had were the pieces of evidence in his backpack, I couldn’t prove he’d done more than show up at the spelling bee.


  4. philangelus

    Cricket, have you ever found yourself looking at something you hand-wrote and waiting to see if the red line pops up? I feel like a right idiot whenever I do that.

  5. Cricket

    Nope, can’t say I’ve done that, but I can see it happening! Back when I could spell, the word just looked wrong, or felt wrong as I wrote it.

    In grade 13, I never, ever, had a spelling mistake. In Dad’s words, “It’s a stupid way to lose marks.” (It helped that they were all take-home essays with that teacher.) One day the teacher was encouraging the class to spell better, and he asked me how I did it. I think he was expecting writing words out five times, or proof-reading, or daily word lists or something. I told him I had a spelling dictionary right “here”, and held my left hand a foot above the desk and a little to the right — where it lived at home. He was … not impressed.

  6. knit_tgz

    I remembered a lot of things in my school exams like that: I saw the book pages in my head with the words. And that’s a bit how I spell-check, too. I write the word, or imagine it written, and if it is wrong it looks wrong.

    I have a more visual memory. I realised this when I was 28, singing in my church choir from memory, without the score, and all of a sudden I noticed that I was SEEING the notes in my head. I have auditory memory, fortunately, but my visual memory is better.

  7. knit_tgz

    I should say my parish choir, not my church choir.

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