Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Impartial Judge

F-U-R-I-O-U-S over spelling bee ruling

This story really resonates with me. Like the girl in the article, I was screwed out of a spelling bee in my youth. Prior to the grand screwing, which took place in fifth grade, I LOVED spelling bees. When I was eight, I ended up on the front page of the Daily Herald's Neighbor section because I beat all but two adults in an all-ages bee. I still remember the word I lost on: Distribution. And I still remember why: I was overconfident because my dad was a "Distribution Manager" at the time. I left out the first "t" as I raced through the word.

But in fifth grade, I had my ten-year-old heart broken by an assistant principal who I've never been able to forgive. I don't remember the word in question, but I remember this: He asked me to spell the plural form of a word, I did, and then he said, no, I asked you to spell the singular form of the word.

At that point there were two other people in the room, because we had reached the last two people in the contest. The other two people were the kid who won as a result of my "mistake"--and went on to win at the district level, too, I think--and that kid's mom. You can imagine which version of the word they said I had been asked to spell.

I've probably never been more outraged by an injustice in all my life. I was ten--I should have been cowed into agreement, or at least silence, by either the authority figure in the room or the fact that I was outnumbered. But I didn't give in. (If we had the argument today, I still wouldn't--I know I'm right about this.) I marched back to my fifth-grade class, told my teacher what had transpired--and turned back around to visit the principal. I waited in one of the visitor chairs, as if I were a parent waiting to meet with the principal about my child, and I told the principal what had happened and how upset I was.

Nothing came of any of this. There was no re-do. The "winner" was gracious enough, for a ten-year-old; he later told me I would have won at the district level if I had gone. But I never did well in a spelling bee again. I can remember, in fact, how little I cared the next year when the bee came around again. It was silly, really; I had come pretty close to winning the district as a third-grader, and there was no reason to believe I couldn't do it as a sixth-grader. But I had a mental block about spelling bees after that.

In the long run, that's not the worst of it. I also learned some lessons that maybe weren't so good that day, at least for a ten-year-old: Have your people in the room. (Those who went to college with me will recall an instance where this lesson came in handy.) Authority figures will screw you over. No one cares about justice. Being the best isn't enough--you've got to have someone there to defend you from those who would cheat to beat you.

So, to the girl in the article and her family, I say, sue the bastards. It may seem like an overreaction, but I know that this will stick in your craw for the rest of your life. Demand satisfaction.


Michele said...

What instance?

when you think of garbage, think of kris said...

i enjoyed the 6th grade spelling bee...especially when i spelt out words on the cafeteria table for dave zabel during competition. haha, stupid middle school.