Akeelah and the Bee: A Review
My favorite movie about spelling is Akeelah and the Bee. This may not sound like much of a recommendation, as one can easily go through life and not see a single movie whose topic is spelling. However, over the years there have been several movies about the national spelling bee, and of all of those I've seen, Akeelah and the Bee is the best. This is because it transcends its subject matter and touches on universal themes. Yes, it is about spelling, and it has some interesting points to make about this academic subject. But it is also about the pursuit of excellence, the difference between cramming and learning, and the relationship between the community and the individual. It's an emotionally charged movie, but it is not sentimental. It is a drama. A genuine one.
It is also a movie with no bad guys that still manages to depict true courage.
Wikipedia article on "Akeelah and the Bee"
Akeelah and the Bee Movie Poster
The Peculiar Place of Spelling in the Hierarchy of Academic Accomplishments
On the face of it, spelling is an inane subject, and the idea of establishing a national competition for champion spellers seems like something that would happen .... only in America!
For the average speaker of the average language, spelling is a non-issue. If it's an alphabetic writing system, and it was designed for the language, then any word you can pronounce is a word you can spell. Not so with English. English is a hybrid language to begin with, or at least ever since the Norman Conquest, and it borrows words freely from many other languages. The way a word is spelled is closely related to its language of origin. Excellent spellers, when encountering a new word, can predict how it will be spelled, provided they know both how it is pronounced and where it came from. It helps to know the roots and the meanings of the roots and to be able to rederive a word from scratch, if necessary.
From this it follows that the study of spelling in English is the study of word origin and of the historical development of the language. In Akeelah and the bee, Akeelah's coach explains this to her explicitly.
Trailer for Akeelah and the Bee
Is Studying for the Spelling Bee Complete Drudgery?
When we learn organically, we open our mind to new knowledge. and the process of learning is enjoyable and fills a deep-seated need. When we study, more often than not we are trying to cram into our memory bits of information that have no intrinsic interest for us, with the ulterior motive of doing well on exams. When a champion speller prepares for a spelling bee, what is that like? Is it like cramming or like learning?
Akeelah and the Bee meets this issue head on. Akeelah is a kinesthetic learner, and her coach soon finds that rhythm is one of her prime motivators. He gives her a jump rope to use while spelling out words. Instead of trying to make her stop keeping time when she is competing, he encourages her to use the method that works for her to achieve her highest potential.
Studying for the spelling bee does involve a lot of memory work, but in order to succeed, the words have to be learned mindfully, and the process must be fun, or it won't work.
Akeelah learns to spell using her mind, her body and her spirit.
Akeelah and her Coach
The Makings of A Champion
Can any child become a national spelling bee champion? Probably not. It takes raw talent, without which all of the preparatory work would achieve nothing. The movie depicts this as well. Akeelah was an unusually good speller to begin with. Nobody made her learn to spell or spend her time on spelling in elementary school. She played scrabble in her spare time for no reason but her own amusement. Before she even began to think of the spelling bee, Akeelah was already a prodigious speller.
But raw talent is not enough. It takes hard work and support from family and friends, and the movie shows us that as well.
We also see the difference between essentially self-motivated preparation and the sort of excessive studying that comes from a parent so intent on the prize that he fails to see the needs of the child.
Akeelah knows that there is a time to study and a time to stop studying, and she is not so intent on winning that she is unable to see the bigger picture and what is really at stake.
Akeelah in French: "Prestidigitation" is still spelled the same!
The Scripps National Spelling Bee
- Welcome | Scripps National Spelling Bee
This is where the page description goes
Spelling bee season is now upon us! If your child is considering entering the Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition, then Akeelah and the Bee is an excellent movie for you to watch together. Keep a yellow note pad and a pencil and a box of kleenex close at hand. It's that kind of movie, I promise. You'll learn new words, you'll laugh, you'll cry! It's better than any other spelling movie you've ever seen.
(c) 2010 Aya Katz
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