I’ve just learned a bit of disappointing news: 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison, AKA the youngest National Spelling Bee contestant, has been disqualified from the Bee. It has nothing to do with her age or a wild, overlooked technicality; she simply misspelled her second word (each contestant only got two). Nevertheless, she’s done pretty well just being admitted, but then she spells “dirigible” correctly and her only mistake is replacing the first “i” with an “e” in “ingluvies“. That’s pretty good shootin’ for someone who has only been on the planet for 6 years and has spoken English for less time than that. Besides, English is a pretty confusing language, especially when so many letters and combinations of letters make the same sounds. Most of us have a lot of trouble with simpler words than Lori’s and we’ve been here a bit longer; I don’t think we have much of an excuse, do you?
Still, I wish she had lasted a bit longer, just to show the big kids she could (though getting in at all is a great accomplishment). Then again, she may get to return next year and maybe she’ll make it farther then. In the meantime, she can practice being a kid and enjoying life, whether that includes swimming, soccer, making cookies with her mom, riding bikes with her friends, learning to roller skate, or diving back into the world of words. I hope she has a great time being carefree while she is allowed that. Maybe we’ll see her next year, but then maybe she’ll take a few years off and be a regular girl.
However, I worry for her and other highly intelligent children, particularly since we adults sometimes feel we can treat them as we would our peers. We forget that emotionally and psychologically, not to mention physically, they are very young and impressionable. They are likely unsure how to behave toward adults and may become overwhelmed with so much attention from their elders, forget all the pressure we tend to put on them after discovering their special intelligence. To those children and adolescents, they use their talents in ways they enjoy, because there is a challenge (learning to spell very long words, for example) or a calling to create and they just cannot resist it. It’s not money or fame that draws them; it’s the love of the thing. I think these kids could teach us a lot.
What do you think about how adults tend to treat very intelligent children and adolescents?
How do you think those younger people see their situation and their gift?
What is your special intelligence or natural passion?