05/31/2008 04:14 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Spelling Porn

Friday night, ABC aired the Scripps National Spelling Bee in prime time. CBS' broadcast of Live Bingo from Temecula must have scared the network into preempting its landmark miniseries, Miley Cyrus: The Early Years.

The National Spelling Bee is like the Westminster Dog Show, but with children.

Spelling bees are a vulgar spectacle masquerading as education. The ability to properly spell guerdon is a cheap parlor trick demonstrating the most mechanistic and trivial expression of intelligence. Spelling instruction, particularly the quest for the sort of mastery required by competition wastes precious time that could be spent developing real language skills - reading, writing and speaking. While proper spelling is important for effective communication, the focus should be on the articulate expression of ideas, not low-level mechanics.

We might pretend that spelling bees represent a nostalgic yearning for the innocence of the mid-Twentieth Century before Google could be used instantly to spell or define an obscure word like opificer. However, spelling bees are really the sport of the 14th Century before the invention of movable type or dictionaries. Even then, memorization of spelling had little value.

It doesn't really matter if I believe that spelling bees are mischievous illusions of intelligence or if they are a destructive classroom activity. The culture thinks they are valid or at least entertaining.

Televised spelling bees will grow into popularity until the inevitable day when contestants are tested for the use of asthma medication. Get on it Senator Specter! Stat!