Is the National African American Spelling Bee a Good Idea?

Nine of the last 13 winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee have been of Indian descent. In many years, African Americans are not represented among the top finalists. Financial obstacles undoubtedly contribute to the low level of participation by African Americans. Many of the nation’s top young spellers employ tutors and coaches and have access to digital media tools to help them prepare for spelling bees. In many cases, these aides may not be available to young African Americans.

But a new event offers many young African American students the opportunity to compete on a national level in spelling competitions. The second annual African American National Spelling Bee will take place in Houston on June 16. Regional competitions have been or will be held in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. Students in grades 6 to 8 are eligible to compete.

The top three finishers from the regional competitions will travel to Houston for the national event, with their expenses and those of their guardians paid by the event’s sponsors.

The African American National Spelling Bee Competition was created by Robert Garner Jr., a Houston businessman who had trouble with spelling as a youngster.

According to the organization’s website, the mission of the African American National Spelling Bee Competition is to give urban middle-school children in grade levels 6 through 8 the opportunity to test their skills within their peer group. The objective of the bee is to:

• Improve students spelling skills

• Increase their vocabulary, reading appreciation and writing

• Nurture their confidence level

• Build life skills

• Unique to this spelling bee, the competitors will see the winners as positive goal models with whom they can identify. Skills emerge through competition and students can build confidence that will hone their abilities to succeed in a multitude of disciplines including oral presentation, the sciences, the arts, and athletics.

Here is a discussion on whether or not the Black-only spelling bee is a good idea. We invite readers to listen and comment.


Comments (13)

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  1. mathprof says:

    Seems like a simple “solution” would be to do both. Use the African American spelling bee to narrow down the “top” spellers. Then send those on to compete in the other competition.

    It is also likely that those who would oppose the African American spelling bee probably aren’t breaking their necks to support talented Black children or expending their resources to help others bring their talents to the forefront. Sometimes, an argument against something is really an argument for the status quo. Quite often the underlying fear that accompanies opposition is to the brilliance of Black children. If Black children entered the national spelling bee in droves and began to dominate, what do you think would happen? It is not hard to imagine. I would personally like to see that because I have a suspicion that the organizers, winners, and many of the families involved truly believe that they are superior to African Americans.

    • derrick0624 says:

      to mathprof: Not trying to be cynical but black kids will not dominate. That wont happen. Why? Not enough black kids are obsessed with this type of activity. There are those who are-but few. Indians flock to this type of challenge and will work like hell, everyday for hours, and Black kids don’t have the support of other Black students, who will encourage them in times of doubt and “is it really worth it” times set in. Same with math.

  2. Bill says:

    My question is how do you intend to reserve this competition for African American youth only? I have seen many things such a college tuition grants that were set aside for African American youth, and now many of these organizations are awarding these grants to East Indians and Asians. The primary argument issued by these organizations is that they are not receiving any applications from African American youth. My concern is the same thing could happen with this new spelling bee.

  3. Evelyn says:

    I would only support this spelling bee if it were merely a “warm up” to the national spelling bee that every child is eligible to enter. Otherwise, it would look like AA children were somehow not ready for primetime. It would look like African American parents were buying into the negative hype about their children.

    • Linda says:

      I totally agree. Our AA children deserve to be represented. I would support any programs developed to prepare our children for the National spelling bee. I feel that is where we need to focus concentration and find ways to get them there.

  4. Mary says:

    I think an african american spelling bee would be an insult to children. In schools do they separate races for tests? No. Get real. The best speller wins. Period.

  5. Naima Bey says:

    I believe this is a great idea. I have a lot of children who are smart and will like to see my children affiliated with national African American spelling bee. Any information on how I can attend with my children let me know please. I would gladly support this idea and my children.

    • Tim says:

      “will like to see my children affiliated with national African American spelling bee”? I really hope you’re not the teacher of these “smart children”. That certainly wouldn’t help the cause.

  6. Erica says:

    A spelling bee for African-American children was not created with the intent to separate but I’m sure anyone who asserts this is disingenuous at best.
    Others are missing the whole point but I’ll follow up on the comment below.

    Mary stated:
    I think an african american spelling bee would be an insult to children. In schools do they separate races for tests? No. Get real. The best speller wins. Period.

    Your analogy is completely incongruous. The truth is that many African-American children are separated everyday when it comes to the quality of education being provided in comparison to their counterparts. Children are disadvantaged, when 40, or even more children are packed into classes like sardines and don’t have the proper attention given to each student. Children are disadvantaged, when they aren’t held to a standard or taught in a manner which will assist them in retaining what is learned. Children are disadavantaged when they have to navigate through a culture in which some individuals deem that a voracious appetite for learning science and math, is white.

    I’m just not buying your argument. When parents send THEIR children to be tutored, they don’t pay for the whole school to be tutored. Parents spend their time and energy first and foremost on THEIR children and rightly so. Other children have parents that spend their time and effort on them unless they are underpriveleged. These children are part of the African-American community, that’s why many African-Americans step forward to create programs that are beneficial for them. It’s follows the old cliche, “Sweep around your own door before you sweep around mine.”

  7. Tim Gorski says:

    How is it determined who is or is not “African American?” Is a South African immigrant with Dutch ancestry allowed in? How “African” does someone have to be? What I am getting at, if it is not clear, is that all systems of racial classification have been failures, even under SA apartheid. Racial classification had its heyday in Nazi Germany so why, like eugenics, has it not been discredited? We paid billions of dollars to get the Human Genome Project done which showed definitively that “race” is a factually invalid concept. But we have known this without the DNA evidence for a long time. Check this out: http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-02-09.htm

  8. Dan Harbin says:

    Its a spelling bee! The goal is to observe which student has obtained enough knowledge to spell words correctly in a competition against other students. Public school is equall to all races, at least where i come from. Making a handicap for other races seems more like an insult then keeping it how it is.

  9. Raymond Rowe says:

    Jody-Anne Maxwell a Jamaican girl of African descent won the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition in 1998. That fact is ignored because it shatters the stereotype the media perpetuates about people of African descent in America.

  10. Rick Macky says:

    Words should be limited to four letters in order to give all people a chance. It’s obvious that the national spelling bee is rigged against fellow African Americans. I think having a special spelling bee just for blacks is not only fair but necessary if we are going to win anything. Scholarships can then be made based on participation.

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