Spelling Integrity

At a national spelling contest in Washington an incident occurred that made me feel good—and made me wonder. In the fourth round of the contest, Rosalie Elliot, then an eleven-year-old from South Carolina, was asked to spell avowal. In her soft Southern accent she spelled it. But did the seventh grader use an a or an e as the next to last letter? The judges couldn’t decide. For  several minutes they listened to tape recording playbacks, but the critical letter was accent-blurred. Chief Judge John Lloyd finally put the question to the only person who knew the answer, “Was the letter an a or was it an e?” he asked Rosalie. Surrounded by whispering young spellers, she knew by now the correct spelling of the word. Without hesitating, she replied she had misspelled it. She walked from the stage.

The entire audience stood and applauded, including half a hundred newspaper reporters, one of whom was heard to remark that Judge Lloyd had put quite a burden on an eleven-year-old. Rosalie rated a hand and it must have been a heartwarming and proud moment for her parents. The thing that makes me wonder, however, was the apparent feeling on the part of so many that the issue might have been in doubt and that honesty might have bowed to temptation. Have we in this age stopped taking honesty for granted, even from our children?

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