Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z's New Path to Success
by Shalini Shankar
"Spelling stichomythia or gesellschaft in front of a television audience of millions isn't just about hundreds of hours of study and dedication. As Shalini Shankar's exploration of the culture of spelling bees shows, the orthographic feats of a handful of driven children reflect much more -- about intellectual competition, the immigrant experience, and the pursuit of success in modern America."—Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players
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.
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.