Anybody watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee broadcast is bound to wonder:
Why were 10 champions in the last 14 contests of Indian American/South Asian descend?
Why is a population that makes up roughly 1% of the US population so heavily represented at the event?
There must be more to this than chance.
Unlikely that there is such as a thing as a spelling bee gene, so this is not about racial stereotypes.
Here are a few things that contribute to the strong presence of Indian/South Asian students at the event:
1 - The American school system and culture has a conflicted relationship with memory-based learning.
Indian culture values academic achievement highly and values memorization as well, as a building block of higher-level knowledge. This, by the way, is also the reason why Indian Americans are not only dominating the Spelling Bee, but also produce much more than their statistical share of doctors, engineers and executives.
2 - Indian Americans/South Asians maintain tightly knit family and social communities, and place a paramount value within their community on academic performance. Social expectations around academic performance tend to be much higher than in other demographic groups. Academic success therefor has a big social pay-off.
3 - Last but not least, the success at Spelling Bees is fostered by various initiatives that exclusively support Indian American/South Asian students. NorthSouth Foundation and the South Asian Spelling Bee are both set up to support the Indian American/South Asian community of aspiring champions.
It’s great to win the first prize at the Scripps National Spelling Bee by competing with 10 million students for over $40,000 in prizes. It’s much more appealing to dedicate the thousands of hours of intense study, knowing that you can also apply these skills at the South Asian Spelling Bee, where you compete with just a few thousand other kids for a $10,000 first prize. These additional events also build friendships and mutual support within the Indian American speller community.