Tag Archives: grandchildren

Spelling 2013: From A to Zed

10 Jul

price_games_SpellingBee-001-logo

 

Many students have sought fame and glory  in the world of competitive spelling.  I, however,  hold the distinction of misspelling the word “curriculum”  six times in my application for a doctoral program in Curriculum and Instruction.  Kindly  Dr. Clark  said with a remarkably straight face  told me that it would probably be a good idea if I learned how to spell the word, if I intended to get a doctoral degree in it. Thus was the world before spell checkers.

Thanks to comic books I was a pretty good reader, but I seemed to have a touch of dysgraphia,  as my handwriting and my spelling always left much to be desired. Oh,  I could learned to spell hard words in areas that interested me,   like “Mr. Mxyzptlk”  (Superman’s impish adversary from the 5th dimension),  but I’ve always had a devil of time remembering  even common words that have complex vowel combinations or doubled constants.

Spelling always made me  kind of anxious, so I was surprised  when my wife Diane and I found ourselves attending the 20th Annual Kentucky Derby Festival Spelling Bee. It was held last Saturday morning at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The contest, which is sponsored by the Ford Motor Company, took place in the swanky PNC Club, a luxury stadium suite with a glassed-in view of the playing field.

We were there because our oldest granddaughter Tori was one of the sixty-five contestants participating this year. This was Tori’s second appearance at the event. She represented Kenton County and had won the county championship by beating out a number of other school champions, including her younger sister.  The Kentucky Derby Festival Spelling Bee is sometimes referred to as the Kentucky State Spelling Championship, but it includes students from Indiana as well. In fact, the second place finisher this year was a girl from Lawrence County, Indiana.

The rote learning of spelling is an old tradition in American elementary schools and the spelling bee competition  has evolved into a popular  nation  institution.  Nonstandard spelling is routinely taken as indicating a lack of intelligence, illiteracy,  or lower socioeconomic status.  Hoosier U.S. Vice-president Dan Quayle’s misspelling of potato at a 1992 spelling bee  in Trenton, New Jersey, was widely taken as a  strong verification of  his  alleged  lack of intellectual chops.

Of course, many folks (mostly poor spellers)  take an opposite view,  such as President Andrew Jackson,  who once said,  “It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.”

Back in 1978 spelling reform advocate Abraham Citron,  from  Wayne State University,   vehemently  attacked  our   system of spelling,   as well as tradition educational methods  saying    “At the portals of education we have laid, not a highway, but a labyrinth.” He described spelling as “difficult, irrational, deceptive, inconsistent, clumsy, frustrating and wasteful”.  He called it   “one of the basic sources of academic discouragement and failure”.

Godfrey Dewey, a Chairman of the national Phonemic Spelling Council, found that Americans use 561 different spellings for  the 41 separate  sounds that make up our spoken language.   The 26 letters of our alphabet are pronounced in 92 different  ways. English spelling rules are so irregular,  rote memory is the educational strategy of choice.  If mathematics was organized in  the same  haphazard manner,  our society would have  screeched to a halt long ago.

Citron who  founded  Better Education thru Simplified Spelling  argued for   creating a more rational  spelling . While major spelling reforms did not ocuurr,  many school systems banished spelling textbooks  and deemphasized the spelling curriculum for many years.  Last year, however,  Boston Globe writer Linda Matchan  reported that spelling is  making a dramatic comeback nationally,  with an  increased interest in  spelling clubs, as well as the reissue  of spelling books and the reestablishment of weekly spelling tests in many  schools.    Matchan  also notes the  growing popularity of  spelling bees with fabulous prizes,  like the legendary  Scripps National Spelling Bee,  which  is now broadcasted  live  on ESPN.

When it comes to prizes,  the Kentucky Derby Festival Spelling Bee is no   piker, with a first prize  that includes a $10,000  savings bond The top five places not only receive cash,  but a number of other awards  as well. Emily Keaton  an  8th grader from Pikesville Kentucky, who has won  this year’s Kentucky Derby Bee, making it four years in a row, walked away with a total of over $43,000.

Spelling bees  have  been featured in popular  movies such as “Akeelah and the Bee” and  “Spellbound”  as well as  the 2006 Broadway musical,  “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”.  As spelling has become especially  “hot”,  Florida reading and spelling consultant  Richard Gentry  says,  “Researchers want to understand how we learn it, teachers want to know how best to teach it, and kids want to know how to   win competitions.” Spelling success also meets a need for an indicator of intellectual rigor that many parents find appealing. Spelling, along with activities such as academic teams and chess clubs,   increasingly offer an alternative for  children who aren’t  athletically  inclined  but still want to compete.

Educational psychologists have found that “deliberate practice”, which consists of  memorizing words while alone,  which is the  most difficult   and least enjoyable type of spelling preparation,  seems to lead to the  most success in competition.  Also related  to winning  is a little known (non-cognitive) personality factor that psychologists call “grit” . It mostly consists of passion and commitment to the task at hand. 

Brian Palmer, a writer for the online magazine Slate, investigated what happened to  National Spelling bee winners later in life. He found that many of them entered careers related to understanding the human mind.  Many became   psychiatrists, psychologists,  and neurosurgeons.  Others went on to work with words as writers and journalists.  One was even a Pulitzer  Prize winner. A few continued to participate  in competitions in other areas,  such  as television games shows like Jeopardy or  the international poker circuit.

Our granddaughter Tori, survived the brutal second round and finished  up in 7th place with another year to compete.  Emily Keaton is on to future successes and all eyes are now on her younger brother, to see if he has his sister’s spelling magic.

There are also spelling bees for people over the age of 50.  One of these is the AARP National Spelling Bee that  was established  in 1996 by   AARP members in Cheyenne, WY.  Their goal was  to create   a fun way to compete with each other,  while   keeping their minds sharp. This spelling bee is held annually in Cheyenne and you can find details on how to enter at the AARP.org website. You  can even win $1000 if you take first place, but you will have to beat 67 year-old attorney  Michael Petrina Jr., who has won twice—last time  spelling the word “Rhizoctonia.”  I’d consider  entering myself,   but I’d probably  get the word “curriculum”.

 

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The Hungary Lorax

11 Apr

                       

 

 

                         Last weekend was the premiere of The Hunger Games,  the movie version  of  the best-selling young adult novel. My daughter and oldest granddaughter read this novel  at  a mother/daughter book club and when they   finished,  they  gave the book to my wife, Diane.   I haven’t exactly read it myself, although I’ve overheard a lot of conversations about it.  I gather it is a rather depressing and intense sci-fi story, a bit like Steven King’s Running Man, except instead of Schwarzenegger, it features a couple  dozen post-apocalyptic teenagers maiming and killing each other with sharp objects in some sort of competition.

            After reading the book all three of them wanted to see the movie, which left me and the younger three grandchildren,  ages 3, 5, and 8,  at loose ends, since The Hunger Games  was rated PG13.  It was thus decided that us, peanut gallery folk, should see the Dr. Seuss movie, The Lorax.

The Lorax is the movie   that Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed was an attempt to “indoctrinate our children.” He said it was “The President’s liberal friends in Hollywood   targeting a younger demographic, using animated movies to sell their agenda…”

Despite my vocal concerns, including the dangers of inciting class warfare,  I was assigned to take the three younger children to see that orange eco-socialistic Lorax.  As soon as we arrived at the theater the  Hunger Games contingent of our party, abandoned the rest of us to make sure they could find a seat.  

My strategy was that I would ply my charges with refreshments,  hoping to slow them down by inducing a stupor of sorts. I bought each of them a 16 oz. cherry ICEE  and  purchased two large popcorns. Our five-year-old grandson said that he couldn’t hold his drink  because it was too cold,  so I got a cardboard drink holders and tried to balance the  drinks and the popcorn. I didn’t make it out of the lobby. One of the cherry  ICEEs  immediately fell and  exploded as it hit the tile floor,   spraying a bit  of the frozen cherry concoction on  a couple of  teenage girls standing in line on the other side of the lobbby. Fortunately they were not armed with bows and arrows, so they had to settle for giving me a dirty look.

The grandchildren, for their part, were highly amused by this and   just couldn’t wait to tell mommy and grandma on me. I began to wonder if it was all these unpatriotic animated movies they had seen, that had made them so willing to thrown me under the bus. Later I told Diane that if we have lived in Nazi Germany, I was certain they would, have turned me over to the Gestapo without a second thought.

The stadium theater was completely empty when we arrived, so we scooted into the good seats where you can put your feet up on the metal railing.  To kill time we started in on the      refreshments. The theater slowly filled up, mostly with kids and grandparents.  The children all seemed to know the Lorax story by heart,  either from the book or from watching a video of  some earlier version. My eight-year-old granddaughter informed me that the Lorax “Speaks for  the trees. ” and her three-year-old sister chimed in repeating, “Yeah, he speaks for the trees.”   making sure I understood, dense as I am.

The movie was visually stunning,  but  kind of  preachy. One of the characters is a young man called the Once-ler who invents the Thneed—  a Slanket-like  pair  of long johns, that becomes so popular,  that everyone has to buy one.  To make the  Thneeds, all of the truffula trees are chopped down,  turning the world into a wasteland. 

Years later a boy name Ted  helps bring back the trees  by planting the last truffula seed,  that the Once-ler has been saving. It’s true that business people don’t come off too well in this movie. As the Once-ler destroys the environment, he says things like,  I’m  just trying to grow the economy.  

I suppose  Dr.  Seuss could have   explained the difference between   “good rich people” and “evil rich people”.  Although this fine of a distinction  would have probably been lost on my party,  preoccupied as they were with  ICEEs and popcorn. My three-year-old granddaughter spent most of her time battling the folding theater seat,  which kept threatening to swallow her. She also kept banging her shoes on the metal railing. I eventually got her to stop, only to notice that some other kid picked up where she had left off. 

Except for making a horrible mess of spilled popcorn and sticky ICEE residue, the children were pretty well behaved. They seemed a little upset during the climatic chase scene towards the end of the movie,  but they were more than satisfied with the ending. Personally I was disappointed in how powerless the Lorax appeared. Despite descending, from what evidently was heaven,  to speak for the trees, the Lorax’s only  power apparently was his moral authority. I suppose the point that Seuss was hamfistedly trying to make is that “The  kind of world we have  is really up to us”.     

Never-the-less,  we all left the theater in a  good mood with cherry colored lips and oily fingers. We still had 30 minutes to go before The Hunger Games was over, so after a much needed trip to the rest room, we retired to the lounge area.  The eight-year-old immediately discovered that slowly rubbing the vinyl covered couch  made a loud flatulent sound, which kept everyone happily occupied for the next 15 minutes. By this time the sugar from the drinks finally kicked in full throttle and the wild running and crawling on the floor commenced in earnest. I killed another ten minutes, and about ten bucks, by letting the children take a variety of  pictures in a photo booth creating a nice mugging and  grimacing memento  for their mother.     

Finally we were reunited with the family members who saw The Hunger Games. They said their theater was packed.  I read where the film set records, making more than  155 million dollars last  weekend. When I asked what she thought  about The Hunger Games movie, my oldest  granddaughter pronounced  it “Epic!”, which I think is just a cut above “awesome”.

Diane wasn’t impressed by some of the casting, costumes,  or goofy campiness, but she said it was still about 75% acceptable.  On Flixster’s Rotten Tomatoes Website, The Hunger  Games got a rating of 85% fresh, while The Lorax only got a 57% fresh rating on the tomatometer.

These two movies are now indelibly linked in my mind.  I suspect in the future,  if  I   think about the Lorax movie, I will remember it  the way I thought it should’ve been—  featuring  a bright orange creature with a  bushy moustache, happily  skewering  greedy  industrialists with  his  lethal bow and arrow.

 

Original published inthe Southern Indiana News Tribune

Grandpa’s Image

13 Jan

 

 

Grandpas

For the most part being a grandfather is a good gig.   Parents and grandmothers shoulder the real responsibilities like civilizing the  little darlings and  changing dirty   diapers.  That pretty much leaves the good stuff like  playing games, reading stories, or generally goofing off. My only complaint about the job is that collectively we have such a  lousy   image.

Whenever my granddaughters draw a picture of me a few things stand out. First of all grandma rules. I am always much smaller than my wife Diane and my hands and arms are drawn stunted and ineffectual  compared to hers.  While my actual wardrobe may leave much  to be desired, they seem  to think  I exclusively wear primary colors of the clown persuasion. However, the unkindest cut of all  is that my hair is symbolized by a  white vertical line slashed above each ear— nothing on top. There is a certain elegance that even Picasso could admire in  being  able  to so thoroughly insult both the color and quantity of my hair in two simple strokes. I can live with this visual image but what deeper meaning does it represent?

Let’s face it, the media has not been very kind to grandparents  in general and grandfathers in particular. For us baby boomers, the grandpa archetype was firmly established by actor Walter Brennan as Grandpa Amos McCoy on the television series The Real McCoys. Bib overall wearing and politically incorrect Grandpa McCoy was crotchety and interfering and if he wasn’t insulting his long suffering  daughter-in-law, Kate,  he was racially insenstive and verbally abusing the hired help– Pepino.

 Real McCoy’s writer Paul Henning, who should be on the AARP’s hit list, is also single-handedly responsible  for the rowdy  grandfather on the Bob Cumming’s Show,  Granny from the  Beverly Hillbillies and  worse of all “That’s Uncle Joe, he’s a moving kinda slow” from Petticoat Junction. Thanks a lot Paul.

Grandpa McCoy was  just one in a long line of curmudgeon grandfatherly types whose gruff exterior usually melts in the presence of some curly-haired waif. This  theme is repeatedly seen in  works of literature like  Heidi, Silas Marner, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Little Colonel,  and a host of  others.

I suppose I prefer the curmudgeon grandparent  to the comically incompetent or mildly brain damaged one  we sometimes see in characters like the senile Grandpa Simpson the or the impulsive Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls.  Charlie Buckett’s Grandpa Joe from Roald Dahl’s  Charlie and the  Chocolate  Factory is a slight improvement. Although feeble and somewhat feckless,  he is at least affectionate, supportive,  and apparently slightly more sane than Willie Wonka.

Even better, however,  are the suave pipe-smoking grandfathers dressed in tweeds in movies like Disney’s The Parent Trap. At one point  in the original version the granddaughter says “Grandfathers smell like  tobacco and mints”. I have to admit that would be an improvement  over most grandfather’s I have  actually smelled, including myself.   Realistically   the best case scenarios  is  beer, brats,  and  perhaps 30 weight motor oil.

In the newspapers, grandfather’s have a positive but vulnerable image.   Bill Keane’s Family Circus featured a ghostly grandfather   and worried for month’s when  Lynn Johnson was  fixing  to kill off Grandpa Jim in her For Better or Worse  comic strip.  Jim was  an admirable  and resilient character who loves to dance,  played in  a band,  and was a respected war veteran, but the last strips he was in   focused  mostly on his  deteriorating health.  It was looking for  a long time that  Grandpa Jim would soon be meeting Farley, the family dog that Johnson previously dispatched to such great effect.    

Some where in the middle of all this is Donald Crisp’s sympathetic  portrayal of Grandpa Spencer in the  popular 1963 family film Spencer’s Mountain.  I can only remember one scene from the movie, and that is where Grandpa Spencer finds his old piggy bank laying on the ground and he starts shaking it,  trying to see if it still contains money. While he’s doing this,  he is crushed  by a large falling tree. Evidently his hearing was so poor he did not hear the tree or the warnings shouted by his son (Henry Fonda).  It may just be me, but I don’t think this movie was very grandfather friendly. It was written by Earl Hamner, Jr.   and became the basis for the saccharine  television series  The Waltons.   

Of course we baby boomers have to take some of the responsibility for the current image of grandparents since we invented the culture  of youth and took perverse pride in not trusting anyone over thirty.  The chickens have come home to roost. We also cling to the  belief that we are perpetually young and reject many traditional beliefs including how we approach grandparenting.  This  was aptly demonstrated by the character portrayed by Dyan  Cannon  in the 2001 sitcom Three Sisters.   She insisted that her grandchildren call her “goddess” instead of “grandma”. 

Perhaps  now is the time to reconstruct the image  of  grandfathers and make them more positive than just curmudgeonly  hillbillies, incorporeal ghosts,  or self-absorbed yuppies. Maybe grandfathers could even change a few diapers now and then. Just remember to be alert for falling trees,  somewhere out there is a sycamore  with your name on it.