Certainly, this measure was taken to ensure a smooth television broadcast, but it can also be seen as an acknowledgment of the unevenness of this playing field. When I spoke with J. Michael Durnil, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, he termed this measure an “equal access onramp.”
In acknowledging that not all children who wish to participate in the Bee possess equal internet access, the Bee could open up a new series of possibilities. What if, in every year going forward, early rounds of the competition could include remote participation for those unable (for financial or other reasons) to participate in person? What if, in future competitions, they provided those remote participants with the technological capabilities to be an equal part of the contest?
It may seem absurd to offer spelling bee coaching scholarships in a time when many children lack educational resources. Yet, addressing inequality in education as well as extracurricular activities is a viable way society can take steps to counter racism and White supremacy. The alternative is to perpetuate the exclusion and elitism upon which the spelling bee is based. Although this educational contest is open to all children, it has historically rewarded racially and economically privileged children.
Let’s use this time of economic and racial reckoning to address not only who can afford to participate in this competition, but also who counts as American. Nearly everyone’s reality has changed, and we find ourselves in a moment of potential, and potentially intentional, transformation. A racially diverse Bee in which children are offered increased access to technology, coaching and support would not only create a more inclusive dynamic but also help transform its purpose as one over which new generations of Americans can feel a sense of ownership.