WELCOME TO NATIONAL HARBOR: This morning, two hundred eighty-one of the brightest English-speaking kids in the world will begin the fulfillment of months and years of preparation for the National Spelling Bee, not in front of a microphone but in front of a computer. There, for the first time in Bee history they will be tested in both vocabulary and spelling -- twenty-five words in each section -- with the results having a heavy weight on who will advance after tomorrow's two live rounds. (added: Picture!)
This is now the eleventh year I've been live-blogging the Bee, and as in years past, we're here to celebrate these great kids, to be amazed by what they can do, and to occasionally mock the Bee when the kid from Ghana has to spell the name of the Passover ritual meal, or seven Canadians go down in a row, or when there's a run of words derived from Afrikaans that we just can't believe.
What we won't do is mock the kids, or presume we can learn anything meaningful about them or their parents based on the brief slices we see on tv. As my favorite line from Frost/Nixon goes, "The first and greatest sin or deception of television is that it simplifies, it diminishes. Great, complex ideas, tranches of time. Whole careers become reduced to a single snapshot." We will try to be modest about what we believe we're seeing; the only thing we can know for sure is whether the word is spelled correctly, and what we learn from former spellers thereafter.
Indeed, we've been blessed to have so many great former competitors join us during Bee Week to share their experiences over the years. (Y'all are welcome back.) Shonda will be returning again, as well.
I feel terribly old-school in still doing this on the blog -- there's an argument that the world has shifted, and we ought to just go to Twitter full-time for the Bee. But I appreciate the Bee-loving community that we create here for one week every May, and if that remains sustainable I'm going to do it.
Good luck to all the competitors, and let's hope for a fun week.