Monday, May 14, 2007
The Sting of the Bee - Washington Post
My kids pushed me to see the movie ‘Akeelah and the Bee’. In fact everyone who knows me seemed to push me to see this movie. Once I watched it, I understood why they saw me all over the screen. I have said, some might say droned, that academic competition fosters intellectual advancement – something first forbidden by slavery law, and now shunned as a part of black culture.
Competition, via academic contests, may be bad for white kids suffering from Advanced Placement overdose, but for black kids, it is essential medicine. The fierce competition on the schoolyard playing fields and courts desperately needs to occur in the classroom as well, in order for us to escape the ‘bottoms’. Competitive spirit and mastery that follows are not beyond the abilities of black kids, but they are currently beyond the dreams of too many.
Pedagogically, good spelling is right up there with mastering nouns, verbs, adjectives and the like. Why? Because there is a logic, or critical reasoning skill, to good spelling, that becomes part of the learning base and which reinforces confidence. Without this knowledge base, all learning becomes much more difficult, leading blacks away from the competitions that accelerate development.
Upon entering my Jesuit high school, thirty-five years ago, the kids with the weakest verbal scores were required to take four years of Latin. Now it may indeed be a dead language, but it certainly brought to life my understanding of grammar, sentence structure, and the critical thinking all good communication demands. The nuance of words is expressed in the variations of spelling. Poor spelling and poor thinking go hand-in-hand.
As for competitive pressures - acknowledging accomplishments is important, but too often society is celebrating it’s ‘first black’ this or that, ignoring the question of why it took so long, except when racism is deemed the culprit. The day when black kids look forward to spelling bees, math bees, writing contests, and debate teams, will be the sounding bell of blacks meeting, en masse, the intellectual disparities the group and the rest of society suffers.
Making black contributions to advancement commonplace, rather than exceptional, in our own eye for starters, is what we really need.
James C. Collier
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