Aug 082013

classroomLast week a 12-year-old boy from Connecticut was disqualified on Jeopardy Kids Week because he misspelled a word in his question.

The answer he had to create a question for was, “Abraham Lincoln called this document, which took effect in 1863, ‘a fit and necessary war measure.’ “

Thomas Hurley III misspelled a word in his question. Emancipation Proclamation came out “emanciptation.”  Apparently, Jeopardy rules do not allow for spelling errors. Their official site doesn’t spell this out; however, media reports noted the eighth grader had an incorrect response and was, thus, disqualified.

When Hurley gave the correct, but misspelled, response, he was in second place. The first place winner was the all-time money-winner for Kid’s Jeopardy, with more than sixty-thousand dollars.

So …. Jeopardy rules: right or wrong? I know there is tremendous danger in my climbing up on a high horse on any issue, including this one –one can have a hard fall. However, life is not fair.

I am an outlier on this outcome among friends; some believe the young man should not have been disqualified. His take-home money would have been greater had his question been allowed. But I’m an old-fashioned kind of parent, and I think rules are rules. What do we teach our children when the rules are bent for them?

What if the money situation had been different and two of the children gave the same response, with one spelled incorrectly? How should that have been handled? As a parent, how would you feel if your child was the one whose word was spelled correctly, and had to share the winnings with the child who spelled incorrectly?

Growing up as the daughter of two teachers, a good score on a spelling test was sacrosanct. Knowing my spelling words meant I would someday go to college, which meant I would have a better life. I was a good speller, but I was not good at math after eighth grade. While I made decent grades in other subjects, the consequence of being poor at math meant my college choices were limited. That was an early lesson for me. We all have gifts, but mine were not in mathematics.

When my husband studied for the Graduate Record Exam, I helped him by compiling lists of difficult words. He tackled the spellings and meanings of torpid, turgid and turbid. To get into graduate school, there’s a minimum score and vocabulary words are a part of the test. Had he achieved a low score on the test, he would not have gone to graduate school.

As a parent, I feel sorry for Hurley. Anyone who has a child can relate to this feeling. No child wins at everything.

When my son was in the fifth grade he won the school spelling bee.

I missed it because I was on a long-haul business trip in New York City.  However, I was home for the county spelling bee.  He placed fourth. When you win fourth, you don’t get a trophy. No one shakes your hand. The three students remaining on stage get pictures in the paper.

I felt horrible that I missed his win, and was present for his defeat.  But a very wise friend said to me at the time, “He needed his mother more for the defeat than for the victory.  Anybody can be a gracious winner.”

Wise words indeed. Hopefully they are ones being discussed in the Hurley household.

Published August 8, 2013 on The Broad Side.

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