January 28, 2005

Today's outrage

Today, I am shaking my head over the decision in Rhode Island to cancel the spelling bee because it would violate the spirit, I gather, of the No Child Left Behind Act. What, are they kidding me? They actually said:

"No Child Left Behind says all kids must reach high standards," [Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda] Newman said. "It’s our responsibility to find as many ways as possible to accomplish this."

The administrators agreed, Newman said, that a spelling bee doesn’t meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards -- because there can only be one winner, leaving all other students behind.

"It’s about one kid winning, several making it to the top and leaving all others behind. That’s contrary to No Child Left Behind," Newman said.

A spelling bee, she continued, is about "some kids being winners, some kids being losers."

As a result, the spelling bee "sends a message that this isn’t an all-kids movement," Newman said.

Furthermore, professional organizations now frown on competition at the elementary school level and are urging participation in activities that avoid winners, Newman said. That’s why there are no sports teams at the elementary level, she said as an example.

The emphasis today, she said, is on building self-esteem in all students.

"You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe they’re all winners," she said. "You want to build positive self-esteem so that all kids can get to where they want to go."

A spelling bee only benefits a few, not all, students, the elementary principals and Newman agreed, so it was canceled.

What a big, steaming pile of horse shit. Self esteem is built by accomplishment, by failure and success, by trying and winning, not by only being told you should have it. "Sends a message". I hate that phrase. The only thing missing here is that Ms. Newman doesn't claim to be "speaking truth to power" by her actions.

Do we need to say, by the way, that she's flat out wrong? NCLB addresses schools, not events like this. Don't cancel the event, make your damn school better.

Posted by Random Penseur at January 28, 2005 11:52 AM

Don't all of the participants have an opportunity to learn to spell correctly ALL of the words used in the spelling bee? I agree - horseshit - H O R S E S H I T - horseshit.

Posted by: Mark at January 28, 2005 11:59 AM

There was a recent article about how all this focus on self-esteem issues hasn't done anything at all. I have been searching for the study, which was from an on-line journal, but haven't found it yet. I will send it along if/when I find it. What I absolutely HATE about this is that it puts all kids on the same level, which is, unfortunately, the lowest level of ability. In a system like this, I feel there is nothing to shoot for, nothing to aspire to, since just trying is "good enough". I went to a school in CA as a kid, where we didn't get grades, we just got check marks along a sliding scale. I don't know about the rest of the kids, but I learned that if I appeared to be trying, well, that was good enough for me. And for my teachers.

This sucks. I am glad I can enforce high standards in the classroom. This does not mean I ignore kids of lesser ability, or that they are "punished" for their weaknesses (and really, what good teacher would do that?), but a good teacher can always find ways and means to work with students of all abilities, while being as fair as possible to all abilities. Set the bar low, and the likelihood that mor than a few kids and their families will seek to rise above what they learn in the school system is also low.

Just my opinion.

Posted by: Mandalei at January 28, 2005 01:32 PM

Here's teh link to the article, in Scientific American


Posted by: Mandalei at January 28, 2005 02:18 PM

Yes, horse shit is the most appropriate way to describe this RP.

I cannot lay claim to any expertise on the sociology or psychology of self-esteem. It does strike that some miss the self-esteem forest for the trees. Teaching a kid to learn (english, math, science, history etc.), letting them know you expect them to learn, and then helping them do so seems at least to this laymen to be the most effective means of building up a child's self-esteem. But what do I know. . . .
Cheers, Ivan

Posted by: ivan at January 28, 2005 03:26 PM

I totally agree. Horseshit. But then again, the trends have been there for quite some time. Not keeping score at sporting events and the like.

Big surprise: I'm in complete agreement with you. All kids ARE winners (to their parents), but to never let a child experience defeat is not preparing them for LIFE. This is why you read about a high schooler committing suicide over a failing grade. Why? They had no prior experience in how to deal with disappointment.

As the mother of two bright boys, I can tell you that even if the soccer coach doesn't keep score, "so they're all winners" they totally underestimate the children -- because the KIDS keep score.

I also really feel for the educators. I saw the "no child left behind" described somewhere as (I'm paraphrasing): 20 children standing in the middle of the roadway while all my time is spent getting one or two out of a ditch."

It's just depressing.

Posted by: Margi at January 28, 2005 03:45 PM

I am so sick of this type of stuff that it makes me glad I don't have kids. The problem, imho, is that all of this "competition is bad" stuff has no bearing in the real world and never will. If you teach a child to deal with losing at an early age and make them understand that it's going to happen, then their self-esteem will remain intact.

Posted by: Howard at January 28, 2005 03:53 PM

I totally agree with everyone. Self-esteem, like respect, must be earned on the basis of accomplishment. Nothing else works, and kids know that too!

Posted by: GrammarQueen at January 28, 2005 05:07 PM

Oh for god's sake, I wish I could say I'm surprised but I'm not. I'll have to point Dan to this, he'll be suitably disgusted too.

It's *lowering* self-esteem, not raising it. Where are children going to get a sense of achievement if they are never allowed to compare themselves to anyone else? The kids who aren't good spellers can find other venues to excel in and feel good about themselves about. Would the spelling bee champs do that well in a soccer game? Or working on a computer? Everyone should have the chance to feel good about doing a task well and better than most. There is nothing wrong with that...SHEESH!

Posted by: Amber at January 28, 2005 08:22 PM

Actually, self-esteem doesn't come from comparing oneself with another, it comes from comparing where one is to where one will be. There is no reason to cancel the spelling bee; the problem is when children are taught that compared to someone else they aren't worthwhile or valuable, rather than there are winners and there are losers in any particular event, but that doesn't take away from the inherent value of the person themselves.

That is the lesson that needs to be learned. The child is born with a specialness that has nothing to do with how well they do in comparison to someone else. It has to do with an inner quality.

Failure is fine, and there is nothing wrong with failing at something unless one learns nothing from that failure.

That is what leads to low self-esteem; the concept that a particular judgement about one quality of a person (their talent, looks, voice) is equivalent to the value of the person themselves.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at January 30, 2005 03:24 AM

Thanks for all the comments, y'all.

I think that we're pretty much all in agreement on this one. Thanks for the article, Mandalei. I printed it out to read at my leisure.

Posted by: RP at January 31, 2005 09:38 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?