The 1970s: When Spelling was Fun

Yesterday, I watched a teacher offer her piano student a piece of candy as a reward for practicing the piano so much the previous week. He had a choice between Starburst and Smarties. The Smarties reminded me of third grade Spelling Bees when I was a kid.

The team who won the Spelling Bee each week would get Smarties for their victory. The team that lost received Dum-Dum lollipops.

[Pause. Wait for reaction from today’s parents.]

We loved it. It heightened the competition, although one, who shall remain nameless, often dreamed of throwing the Bee to get a Dum-Dum, which she preferred.

It didn’t matter. Each week, the teams changed, the spelling list stumped different kids, and we eventually all had our chance to be a Dum-Dum or Smartie.

I told that story to the piano teacher, who laughed, “If you did that today, you’d never hear the end of it!”

Interesting response.

So I told another teacher at another school in a different city.

Same response. “That’s awesome! But I can’t even think about the parent phone calls I’d get! You gave my kid a Dum-Dum?!”

A third said, “I wish I could get away with that today!”

As parents, have we lost our sense of humor? Are our kids that much more sensitive today than we were? Are we too afraid to teach them what competition is all about because they might lose? Or as a third grader in the 70s, did I miss one of my classmates having nightmares and confidence issues because of the Dum-Dums for the losing team?

Today the scenario might go like this: One Friday afternoon after losing the Spelling Bee, my child might get handed a Dum-Dum instead of Smarties. He might come home crying because he interpreted that to mean the teacher thought he was dumb. I might call the principal.

That’s not what happened when I was in third grade. We studied our spelling lists harder so we didn’t let down our team. We had fun. The weaker spellers were always with stronger spellers, and even the weakest speller had a chance to shine, to feel proud because they got a hard one for the team. We adored our teacher. We loved being at school. We rooted for – or against, in that case of the Dum-Dum addict – our team for the week. And we all got candy!

What third grader isn’t happy when they get candy at school?

I know my kids would stop complaining about studying for their Friday spelling tests.

“Do I have to?”

“It’s soooo boring!”

And I guarantee you, my son would want to throw the Bee for a Dum-Dum.


One thought on “The 1970s: When Spelling was Fun

  1. Laura says:

    I think the Dum-Dums and Smarties are pure genius. Of course you couldn’t possible do that today. Parents would complain that their child got Dum-Dums. Parents would complain that their child got CANDY! Oh the horrors!

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