Thursday, May 27, 2010


So how come that from 1985 to 2009 (25 years), 9 (that is, more than one third) spelling bee champions are Indian-Americans? And how come, that from 2000 to 2009 (10 years), six of the champions are Indian-Americans?

Remember, this speaks volumes about the contestant demographic. If six winners out of ten are Indians, what percentage of the participants are Indians?

Spelling bee is a rather meaningless contest, to spell obscure words. Why would an immigrant community be so interested in coaching their children to win this thing? Instead of, say, coaching them to become a baseball champion, or a gymnast, or a skateboarder?

The answer to this question may reveal something fundamental about the Indian-American mindset.

My hunch is that Indian-Americans are socially and physically at a disadvantage in the US, and to bolster their self-esteem, they try to excel intellectually. Moreover, to win a contest like the spelling-bee requires hard work and rote, not creativity. I think it is reflective of a slavish, colonial mindset.

Also, academic excellence, good educational credentials, and a salaried job are the safe avenues of making good money in the US. That's what Indian parents wish for their children, and it makes economic sense.

Moreover, social life in the US is considered dangerous and immoral by first-generation Indian immigrants. Better keep the child at home and give him a dictionary.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

There's a strong self pride in Indians, and emulating anything British fans that flame.

itsme said...

I dont see anything wrong with kids winning these contests or their parents.

-"Also, academic excellence, good educational credentials, and a salaried job are the safe avenues of making good money in the US. That's what Indian parents wish for their children, and it makes economic sense."

That is true in many of these countries (india, china, japan) and doesnt have much to do with indians living in the US.

messisbi said...


Keep them home and give them a dictionary...first generation is the dictionary generation...your writing improved after you gave up that thing...give more of this satirical stuff...

G Saimukundhan said...

Its a competition and thats about it. As to finding it meaningless, no event or competition can be meaningful, as they rarely serve any purpose other than entertainment. Including Baseball, or Basketball or Cricket in India.

Any competition tests a particular skill. If somebody excels in that skill they are rewarded. Rote learning is very much present in so called creative fields of media, writing or even sporting arena. A fixed template (Eg. Ludlum's latter Novels of a US Spy - Retired - Reclusive - Brought Back - Russian Enemy), or Fixed Pattern / Modulation (Most news readers, especially the junk heads at Headlines today) and playing the ball the same manner.

Though we may consider it is a rote learning model, who knows, may be some further skills might be required. Some 'creative' way of 'rote learning' (he he).

I agree with the mindset part. I had long back posted on our 'cultural superiority mindset' or 'Safe game' or 'defence mentality' and the 'rote learning menace' long back. I am too not a fan of rote learning, though.


Lukas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Just imagine if the spelling bee did not come with rewards like appearance on TV a meeting with the President, over $50,000 in rewards, newspaper publicity, do you think Indians would be still participating in them?

As long as there is a substantial monetary benefit, Indians do not mind working hard at performing routine, mundane, repeated tasks like programming or spelling.

Mainstream Americans on the other hand, loathe such tasks seeking excitement and change and challenge in work or study.
So they have left the field open for people like the Indian immigrants to perform these tasks.
Just imagine if Indians from India were allowed to participate in Scripps how many coaching centers for spelling would crop up in India and the entire spelling bee would be invaded with Indians and one might as well ask them to spell words like
"Puzhikachal" from Tamil and make it a contest for the American pronouncers to see who pronounces it closest to the Tamil pronunciation. That would be fun!

Pankaj said...

nice. i agree. it has to do with the identity of indian americans - academically inclined, professionally oriented, proper.

Anonymous said...

Indian immigrant parents have been through a rote learning based education system in India. American system is completely divorced from rote learning and emphasizes critical thinking. However Indian immigrant parents still value the rote learning systems they are so familiar with and value so much. They pass it on to their kids. The spelling bee or geography bee is an excellent avenue that rewards rote learning skills well. This in one thing parents feel confident they can teach their kids and ensure their success. Indian kids typically do not do as well in Math or Creative writing or on the spot robot building contests.

Anonymous said...

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hari said...

First and foremost, I think the author needs to be appreciative of the fact that the indian american community excels in this particular event. Apparently the event has a long history (been running for 83 years) and it was some obscure nonsensical event it wouldn't be telecast live by ESPN. Second, it is this very attitude of trivializing achievements of fellow indians (or indian-americans) that is quite unnecessary. If you dont approve of it, dont watch it, dont blog on it. No one held a gun to your head, did they? And what is so creative about your blog criticizing someone's achievements. I think the author is the one with a complex.

Anonymous said...

I dont get why sudying art or something creative is so great ?
Engineers, doctors and Finance professionals are very important to society ! I know American kids who liked playing the violin but didnt see the sense in doing it full time and so studied computer science. There is a reason why Indian Americans have one of the highest per capita incomes among immigrant groups. And thats not a bad thing !
Contests like this helps kids train their brains and helps them do well in tests later on in life.
A great memory is an asset and is important to succede in any field.

Lukas said...

Jiang Xueqin paints a similar picture of Chinese education with Plato's Cave allegory.

Memorizing textbooks from dawn until dusk may sound painful, but pain is subjective, and Chinese teenagers have adapted to this system, which is safe, predictable, and certain.... Learning to memorize textbooks is far easier and more enjoyable than learning to think for yourself, and make your own decisions.
Shenzhen Middle School’s western campus also testifies to how much Chinese students seem to prefer 'imprisonment and slavery' to freedom and choice. When they entered the school for the first two years they were subjected to choice after choice, opportunity after opportunity. What class do they take? What activities do they join? Should they date? What should they do? How should they think?
After having seen the light and the 'real world,' students quickly and happily run back to the cave to put the chains back on.

Anonymous said...

"Colonial slavish mindset" is absolutely right. In the past 10 -12 yrs the Indians immigrants to US are the software workers majority of whom migrated to US for money. Most of this worker class of immigrants have hardly excelled academically in India but managed to get high paying jobs in the US after picking up some software skills from one of the multitude of institutes in India. Such people measure excellence with monetary rewards. So having their kids slave or receive rigorus rote based coaching for getting the big prize is their idea of academic excellence.
Such worker immigrants have the typical Indian idea of "Jugaad". They have even formed organizations totally dedicated to coaching and organizing bees (ONLY FOR INDIAN) kids for winning the bees and then projecting those kids as trophies and role models to be copied by the entire Indian community. To top it all is the arrogance of such workers who try to project themselves as "highly qualified" or the "creme la creme" of India who immigrated to US. Making their offspring win the bee is supposed to be proof of their tall claims and "superior genes" as compared to other immigarnts in USA.
Actually it would be very interesting to study the backgrounds of such parents in India to see how many of them learned the GITA by rote, gave Bharatnatyam performances, attended elite academic institutions in India with/without being coached for the entrance exams etc etc..
It is not every Indian parent who pushes their kids to bees (especially not those who value academic excellence).Unfortunately due to the ghettoish behavior of the worker class immigrants the entire community of Indians in the US is being stereotyped.