They spelled cautiously, confidently, valiantly back and forth, and back and forth until he mis-spelled his word (which made me feel sad) and she correctly spelled two words in a row for the win. Even typing that makes me wince a little because, faced with the prospect of my children being entered into the mandatory grade level spelling bee, I had a quiet unease about the whole thing. I couldn’t pin point why I was uncomfortable with the spelling bee, but I knew that something wasn’t quite right.
My son had a laiz et fair attitude about his grade one Bee and though he looked at his list briefly, he was not at all invested in the event. (Which was fine by me!) I went to show my support but neither of us were put out when he was eliminated. Meh. It was both our fist spelling bee experience and it was interesting, but not all that remarkable.
Lauryn, though. That was a different story. She was totally unwilling to do it. She did not wish to be up on stage in front of a bunch of people spelling into a microphone. NO thanks! (Which was fine by me.) I made arrangements with my husband for him to stay home with her that Wednesday because that was the only way she could opt out. Then Tuesday came and she quietly declared that, yes, in fact she would like to do the spelling bee. (Err!?) Asked why, she responded with impossible to translate vagaries. My husband and I exchanged a look with questioning brows, but we accepted her decision.
That evening, at her behest, I ran through most of the grade two list (of words) with her, then she ‘tested’ me on some of the grade three words, then she got bored and we stopped. On the way to school the following morning, I asked her to spell a few words she’d found decidedly un-phonetic (“Apron is with an O?!”) and that was that.
In the middle of all this, was that quiet but steady insistent feeling that something was not in line with my ideology. And what does a mom do when she needs answers? Why, she hits the google search, of course. I searched for “effects” of “spelling bee” or any variation of that theme. One of the top hits was an article by Alfie Kohn about competition.
I already had some of those thoughts and feelings resident within. It was this same place where the unease originated. And so, let me tell you now, why my daughter winning the grade two spelling bee was a big deal for me.
You see, we were an unschooling family for seven years.
What that means is that there were no formal lessons on anything. We learned trailer-loads, boatloads, tons – all that. But nothing was scripted, forced, or coerced. My children both were gifted with a dream like childhood in which they played and played, then played some more. In a house, with a mouse, with a fox on a box, in the rain, on a train, in they day, in the night, over here and over there – we played and played EVERYwhere! (But if you’ve ever read this blog, you know that already!)
Then (due to a Big Reason that cannot be broached here), they both enrolled in a super small school in January last year. They completed grade 1 and Kindergarten in a class of four people (including them) and had the luxury of a teacher that could move as fast or as slowly as they needed.
THEN. They started “Big School” last fall. Tests every week. Homework. End of term exams. The whole 10 yards.
And THEN. Having had zero formal learning that our society touts with the veracity of a marketplace hawkers, my daughter spelled her way to win the school spelling bee.
I beg your forgiveness if you have found this circuitous and hard to follow. The story itself is hard for me to really get and really tell. It’s so much more complex than paragraphs. So much more rich than sentences. So much more meaningful than this blog post will ever be.
Her spelling bee win was bigger than spelling. It was a win for being a kid and having fun. It was a solid victory for living as learning and learning as living. It was validation for the uncommon irreverent ideas – Truths! – that this mother holds so dear.
cian is an enthusiastic mother and a spirited advocate for an educational overhaul. She hopes to create a progressive learning community one day soon. She writes about all of it. She can also be found at here