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Cover image for Beeline : what spelling bees reveal about generation Z's new path to success
Title:
Beeline : what spelling bees reveal about generation Z's new path to success
ISBN:
9780465094523
Edition:
1st ed.
Physical Description:
vii, 327 pages ; 25 cm.
Contents:
Introduction -- Kids today -- Brain sports and kid competitions -- Spelling bees -- Gen Z kids -- Parents of Gen Z kids -- Bee week -- Becoming elite -- Making spellebrities -- Professionalizing childhoods -- Conclusion: Gen Z futures.
Summary:
An anthropologist uses spelling bees as a lens to examine the unique and diverse traits of Generation Z--and why they are destined for success At first glance, Generation Z (youth born after 1997) seems to be made up of anxious overachievers, hounded by Tiger Moms and constantly tracked on social media. One would think that competitors in the National Spelling Bee -- the most popular brain sport in America -- would be the worst off. Counterintuitively, anthropologist Shalini Shankar argues that, far from being simply overstressed and overscheduled, Gen Z spelling bee competitors are learning crucial twenty-first-century skills from their high-powered lives, displaying a sophisticated understanding of self-promotion, self-direction, and social mobility. Drawing on original ethnographic research, including interviews with participants, judges, and parents, Shankar examines the outsize impact of immigrant parents and explains why Gen Z kids are on a path to success.
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Summary

Summary

An anthropologist uses spelling bees as a lens to examine the unique and diverse traits of Generation Z--and why they are destined for success

At first glance, Generation Z (youth born after 1997) seems to be made up of anxious overachievers, hounded by Tiger Moms and constantly tracked on social media. One would think that competitors in the National Spelling Bee -- the most popular brain sport in America -- would be the worst off. Counterintuitively, anthropologist Shalini Shankar argues that, far from being simply overstressed and overscheduled, Gen Z spelling bee competitors are learning crucial twenty-first-century skills from their high-powered lives, displaying a sophisticated understanding of self-promotion, self-direction, and social mobility. Drawing on original ethnographic research, including interviews with participants, judges, and parents, Shankar examines the outsize impact of immigrant parents and explains why Gen Z kids are on a path to success.


Author Notes

Shalini Shankar is professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at Northwestern University. A Guggenheim fellow and National Science Foundation grant recipient, she is the mother of two Gen Z children. Shankar splits her time between Evanston, Illinois, and Brooklyn, New York.


Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this compassionate ethnography, Shankar, a professor of anthropology and Asian-American studies, argues that the poised, proficient young spellers who participate in the National Spelling Bee should be seen as a bellwether for their "camera-ready, organized, driven, and goal-oriented" generation, members of which understand the importance of developing "human capital" early in life. She gives plenty of space to the culture of the bee, detailing its development from a traditional schoolroom competition into a televised media phenomenon in which "spellebrities" dazzle viewers with their personalities and skills. She also focuses on the Indian-American communities that have produced many recent bee champions, noting the impact of non-U.S. cultural influences and immigrant experience on American culture at large-a much-needed corrective, she argues, to generation models that present white, middle-class norms as universal. But her generational depictions tend toward broad archetypes (hedonistic, helicopter-parent baby boomers; Generation X parents skeptical of the "American dream") and she does not provide rigorous, explicit support for her claims that the culture of intense preparation surrounding the bee is merely one example of an endemic "professionalization of childhood." This account is more successful as a deep dive into bee culture and immigrant experience than as an argument about what constitutes a typical Gen Z experience or child, but it makes for engaging reading nonetheless. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

Dating back to 1925, the American National Spelling Bee now attracts more than 11 million participants each year. Constituting the newest members of Generation Z, a demographic that is projected to be the most diverse in history, these amazing spellers cultivate professional skills from a very young age, giving TED talks, starting their own businesses, and becoming internet celebrities before reaching adolescence. Shankar, professor of anthropology at Northwestern, focuses on the Bee as a microcosm for examining emergent generational attitudes. The question has shifted, she explains, from 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' to simply' What do you want to be?' Shankar provides an in-depth analysis of multiple factors that contribute to an elite speller's success, such as personal training regimes and the influence of parenting styles of both American and immigrant adults (the most involved of whom the author dubs Bee parents ). In this revealing look at how the youngest generation is adapting to face an exceptionally competitive world, Shankar shows that these bright, dedicated competitors give us many reasons to feel hopeful.--Kenneth Otani Copyright 2019 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

IN THE RAREFIED WORLD of the National Spelling Bee, Chetan Reddy was not unusual. Like other top spellers, he prepared constantly. By eighth grade he was putting in at least four hours a day, and as many as eight on weekends. Like other competitors, he began as a youngster, starting in regional bees at around age 6. He is IndianAmerican, not uncommon in these circles. Chetan did not win the National Bee. He was happy to come in seventh. But the last time the winner was not South Asian was 12 years ago. Chetan's parents were not atypical either. They were Indian-American professionals in a Dallas suburb with advanced degrees in electrical engineering and computer science who prepared word lists for him; his mother designed software applications so he could test and review about 1,000 words per hour. "I like the thrill of competition," Chetan said, "trying to get better and work harder." To his immigrant father, "the National Spelling Bee was our Olympics." Chetan is one of the many junior wordsmiths Shalini Shankar profiles in her engaging book about kids who make it to the competition known familiarly as the Bee. Shankar, an anthropologist at Northwestern, attended many major spelling bees and spent hundreds of hours interviewing and getting to know the contestants and their families. The elite spellers have talent, discipline and perseverance. They also have highly invested parents who foster their children's spelling careers, sometimes at the cost of their own (the upstate New York mother of two Bee champions, Sriram and Jairam Hathwar, for example, cut back on her medical practice), and provide resources, support and guidance every step of the way. Although Indian immigrants make up about 1 percent of the United States population, their American-born children are overrepresented in the National Spelling Bee finals - and in the book's profiles. Like other immigrant parents, Indian families highly value education, but they have an additional advantage: An astounding 77 percent of adult Indian immigrants in 2015 had a bachelor's degree or higher (compared with 29 percent of all immigrants and 31 percent of native-born adults). The Indian-born Bee parents in the book are virtually all professionals with the knowhow and financial resources (some of them stay-at-home mothers) to help prepare their children for these intense competitions. There are even two minor-league spelling bees for kids of South Asian heritage that are often a launching pad for the Bee. Less happily, the success of IndianAmerican spellers has triggered some backlash on Twitter, with racist calls for white children to take back the Bee. Despite the mind-boggling amount of work they did, the kids were enthusiastic about the competitions even when they faltered or failed. Shreyas Parab didn't get to the national semifinals but nonetheless relished his time in the limelight, and was thrilled when he spelled a word right after hours of study ("It's hard to describe the happiness. ... It's like a victory lap"). If there were spellers who would have preferred to be playing with their friends or resented the pressure, Shankar does not feature them. Ultimately, the payoff is the excitement and sociability of the bees, the prizes and media attention. And the bees, Shankar argues, help young people cultivate skills that can be valuable on the job market, create networking opportunities and build poise under pressure, especially for those who become "spellebrities" on ESPN's live broadcasts of the National Bee, which draw around a million viewers. Being able to spell the longest entry in the dictionary (pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, a lung disease), like 6year-old Akash Vukoti, may seem weird, but these parents treat spelling bees much like other American parents treat competitive baseball or soccer, "our brain sport that we encourage." The book is much less successful in making the jump from the generally middleclass suburban Bee spellers to revealing truths about an entire generation of people born after 1996. They are "accustomed to competing from a young age," "work hard to become young social media influencers and entrepreneurs," "seek out opportunities rather than expecting things to be handed to them" - these are just a few of the unsupported generalizations about Generation Z. Shankar is most convincing when writing about the kids and their parents in the culture of the Bee, and how many Indian-Americans have come to call it their own. NANCY FONER is a professor of sociology at Hunter College and is working on a book about how immigrants are changing America.


School Library Journal Review

Shankar (anthropology & Asian American studies, Northwestern University), mother of two Gen Z children, first developed an -interest in spelling bees when on an ordinary weeknight she sat folding laundry while the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals aired on ESPN. Intrigued by the intense contest and the confidence and drive of the participants, the author embarked on a research project that explored what she argues are unique aspects of childhood today, such as increased competition, differences between U.S. and non-U.S. -parenting styles, and the effects of prolific social media usage. -Shankar believes a key trait of Gen Z is finding reward in winning rather than effort, citing the generation as goal-oriented, productive, highly organized, and socially aware. Using interviews with bee participants, judges, and parents of competitors, Shankar ushers in a unique view of not only the tournament itself but what makes the younger set tick. VERDICT A fascinating study into today's generation through the eyes of the Bee as well as an intriguing ethnographic study of young Asian Americans who have taken the competition to new heights in recent years.-Julia M. Reffner, Richmond, VA © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus Review

Through the lens of spelling bees, an anthropologist looks at how childhood is becoming increasingly professionalized.Shankar (Anthropology and Asian-American Studies/Northwestern Univ.;Advertising Diversity: Ad Agencies and the Creation of Asian American Advertising, 2015, etc.) draws on anthropology, education, language, and culture to explore why South Asian Americans from the post-millennial Generation Z keep winning spelling bees. Exploring the "rise of childhood competition to shifts in generational characteristics and immigration," her research is fascinating. The author attended every National Spelling Bee from 2013 to 2018, plus many regional bees, and interviewed numerous winners, semifinalists, and their parents, and she discovered that "no immigrant community has embraced spelling as completely as South Asian Americans." As one parent told her, "now if you're an Indian child, you try spelling bees. This is a common thing now." The Indian-American winning streak, writes Shankar, can be attributed to the efforts of highly skilled immigrants who came to America in the early 1990s. They valued education and prioritized "academic enrichment "over all else." It also helps that Gen Z kids have a very high digital fluency. "The shift from US-born Baby Boomer helicopter parenting to Generation X stealth-fighter parenting," writes the author, "has fostered greater self-reliance." Shankar also provides a concise history of bees, noting that by the "latter half of the eighteenth century, spelling matches were a well-established practice in American schools." The first National Spelling Bee was sponsored by the Louisville Courier-Journal and held in Washington, D.C. The author is excellent at capturing the drama of these events on both the national and local levels as well as explaining how "Spellebrities" are created. Today, the finals of the National Spelling Bee are televised on ESPN, and comedy writers provide humorous sentences for the pronouncers.Parents who hope to see their children compete in these word clashesand those who enjoy word gameswill find this a most enlightening read. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

Shankar (anthropology & Asian American studies, Northwestern Univ.), mother of two Gen Z children, first developed an -interest in spelling bees when on an ordinary weeknight she sat folding laundry while the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals aired on ESPN. Intrigued by the intense contest and the confidence and drive of the participants, the author embarked on a research project that explored what she argues are unique aspects of childhood today, such as increased competition, differences between U.S. and non-U.S. -parenting styles, and the effects of prolific social media usage. -Shankar believes a key trait of Gen Z is finding reward in winning rather than effort, citing the generation as goal-oriented, productive, highly organized, and socially aware. Using interviews with bee participants, judges, and parents of competitors, Shankar ushers in a unique view of not only the tournament itself but what makes the younger set tick. VERDICT A fascinating study into today's generation through the eyes of the Bee as well as an intriguing ethnographic study of young Asian Americans who have taken the competition to new heights in recent years. © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1 Kids Todayp. 7
2 Brain Sports and Kid Competitionsp. 43
3 Spelling Beesp. 69
4 Gen Z Kidsp. 101
5 Parents of Gen Z Kidsp. 129
6 Bee Weekp. 161
7 Becoming Elitep. 191
8 Making Spellebritiesp. 229
9 Professionalizing Childhoodsp. 255
Conclusion: Gen Z Futuresp. 283
Acknowledgementsp. 289
Notesp. 293
Indexp. 311
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