It all counts


Throughout her academic career, my daughter worked exceedingly hard to earn high grades. A consummate overachiever, she maintained an A-average from elementary school through her recent master’s degree. Her education was serious business.

When she was in middle school, probably around seventh grade, the scale for earning an A was a numerical score of 95-100. All that changed when the local school board lowered the standard to a range of 90-100. The board’s rationale was that the change was more consistent with grading policies throughout the state.

My daughter was pissed. She felt cheated. For two years she had busted her butt to earn that higher grade, and now anyone could slip under that 95 mark and get an A too. To her, the change was unfair to the students who put in the extra work and time for the higher scores. She thought lowering the requirements cheapened the A.

Yeah, she was like that at age 12. She had a very heightened sense of fairness.

I say all this because of the recent controversy over a teen Jeopardy contestant’s claim that he was cheated when he was disqualified in final round for misspelling his answer. He and his parents apparently feel that faux pas did not rise to the necessary level of incorrectness.

This kid, regardless of his intent, misspelled the answer. The boy who won, did not. Were they both supposed to be ruled correct? How is that fair to the contestant who spelled his answer right?

Where do we as parents, as educators, as the general public, draw the line? When do we begin to hold our children accountable. Schools, and television game shows by extension, must be able to tell a student: “I know you know the answer, but that isn’t enough. Spelling counts, math counts (show your work), chronology counts, historical dates count, grammar counts, punctuation counts… it all counts!”

Accountability people! We aren’t doing these kids any favors by letting them slide, by only expecting the bare minimum of effort. It is not helping them when we are more concerned that a B or C hurts little Johnny’s feelings, than that he can’t read or express himself in an intelligent way.

In real life, a misspelled word can mean a murderer goes free on a technicality. An error in math can mean a widow loses her home and life savings. A misplaced comma can mean life as we know it is over.

It all matters! I bet the boy who lost won’t misspell “Emancipation” again. If only his parents would also teach him that he can’t win every time. Life can be hard, and he has to take responsibility for his mistakes and learn from them.

Parent, we can’t save our kids from every problem they face in life. How will they become independent and capable adults if we do?

21 thoughts on “It all counts

  1. I agree!! I remember having to work my butt off for everything when I was a kid. Competition was part of life and you better accept that there are winners and losers. Now it’s all about “participation” Gah! Participating won’t get you that great job in the end. Working in a cut throat business environment isn’t fun and games and participation. It’s hard work and competition. We have been setting up a generation of kids who are getting their asses kicked when they finish high school because parents don’t want little Johnny to feel like a loser.


  2. I am so on the same page with you! I worked in the school system as a secretary, while I still had kids in school. I saw, first hand, how parents manipulated the system, argued with teachers and administrators until they got their way. Now, I see it spreading into other parts of society and I’m simply baffled. I’ve seen TV news journalists use improper grammar! How can we let this happen? Accountability has got to mean something. The politically correct message needs to be adjusted. There are good things in it, but I think it has just gone too far. I’m done ranting…thank you! Great post!!!!


    1. I’ve seen kids who have suffered academically because their parents won’t make them do their own work. Once they get to college, tech school or get a job, mommy and daddy can’t do everything for them.


      1. Hah, wanna bet? I’ve heard stories of PARENTS calling up a company their kid interviewed at and complaining if their child didn’t get the job. OR contacting professors about a lousy grade.

        Seriously??? WTF?


  3. I can understand where being timed this kid put a ‘t’ in the wrong place. I don’t see that Alex was rude to the child. My understanding is the child would have came in second regardless. The parent’s are pushing more media on their child and it’s not a good example. My oldest daughter was selected 3rd from her school this past year, to participate in a statewide spelling bee. She was in 5th this last school year. She studied every night, even high school level words. Unfortunately, the week of the spelling bee, she was in the hospital with some stomach bug that was going around and left her dehydrated and very sick. Of course, she was disappointed. However, the spelling bee went on without her and one of her classmates came in 3rd for the state competition. I’m proud to say my daughter called her and congratulated her. I didn’t protest the elementary school on grounds of unfairness. I absolutely don’t believe in the ‘everyone’s the winner’ rule and I think your post is well written and expresses what a lot of parents feel. It is funny, because I don’t watch a lot of t.v. and actually didn’t read about the Jeopardy incident until just now. I went to Google and without knowing what exactly to search for, I entered; ‘Kid on Jeopardy whining over misspelled word.” Your blog came up, along with several other links to go too. 🙂 Maybe it was because I was already on here when I went to search. Regardless, I watched the playback and I see a child who is upset but would have been fine if his parents guided him and spoke to him about ‘Life isn’t always fair.’


    1. I agree, I think the boy would have been much better off if he was just allowed to be second place, without his parents making such a big deal about the loss. Some kids get very nervous when taking tests, or performing in public, I can understand it would be easy to make a mistake. But, we have to learn from our mistakes and accept responsibility. Not try to talk our way out of it, or blame everyone else.


  4. In my mind, you are absolutely correct. Personally, I don’t know if the rules on “Jeopardy” say it must be spelled correctly or not – but even so, an answer spelled incorrectly is an answer incorrect. Period.


    1. What part did you disagree with? The Jeopardy kid having a valid complaint, or parents fixing their kids mistakes?

      If the kid knew the rules going in, which the game show’s response said he did, then what grounds does he had to complain now? I’ve see shows where an answer was ruled incorrect because the contestant pronounced a word or name wrong.


  5. I totally agree. For years, I’ve been railing about what I call ” the dumbing down of America.” It’s a sad commentary that it’s notable if someone speaks or writes well. Kids are leaving school unable to conjugate properly, spell, or make change. I’m betting that if you stopped the average young adult on the street and asked him or her what an adverb was, they couldn’t tell you, let alone use one correctly. Not a big deal, some might say, but it’s just another symptom of the drooping standards in our education system. I find it sad, and worrisome.


    1. I once worked in the athletic department at a community college. Because of my journalism degree, I offered to help some of the basketball players with their English homework. It was stunning how ill-prepared they were. They didn’t know what an adverb or adjective was or how to use them. They couldn’t write a simple sentence without some sort of grammar, spelling, or formatting error. Dumbing down indeed.


  6. It’s the whole “nobody is a loser” policy – at the baseball games, no team loses. WHAT?! Yes, you had winners and losers when we were kids. You ended up knowing what you were good at, what you didn’t like and what you wanted to improve on. This generation of parents are in a soft bubble, while the world isn’t. I grew up the old fashioned way and as an older first time mom, I’m going to raise my son in the old fashioned ways, where there’s accountability and respect.


    1. That’s is… “nobody is a loser.” There has to be winners and losers. Someone will be smarter, a better athlete, a better musician/singer. I like what you said about learning what you’re good at and what you don’t like. My son is brilliant, but he never liked school. He’s applied to trade school this fall. If I was a different parent, I would have MADE him go to college when that is definitely not what he wanted.


  7. I agree with all of this. While I know my own shortcomings with math and sometimes spelling (thank goodness for spell check etc) I also know that you get nothing for free. You must do the work, show the work, and try to enjoy that process.

    when I heard this story my biggest argument was that I was afraid (like most children and some adults) he had simply memorized answers for a game show. Did he really know what the emancipation proclamation said and did for our country? Or was it a date that had been burned into his memory?

    the mom in me, the American in me wanted to believe he did, but if you can’t spell it…???

    in Central Park the other day Jacob was enthralled with the statue of Columbus. “Who is that?” he asked

    “Christopher Columbus”
    “I like his cape, it’s like Harry’s.” then a moment later “what did he do?”

    “well he was an explorer who discovered….wait a minute, he didn’t discover America, but the books and school might tell you he did…” on and on I went, remembering the first time I was told, (well into my 20’s ) that good ole Christopher didn’t discover America.

    I guess we all just memorize and accept some things…but that still doesn’t make it right or real.


    1. My daughter will go off on Columbus and about how terrible he was to the native Americans. Not a fan. But, you’ll never see that truth in history books.

      Yeah, the game kid… the whole thing is just beyond reasonable. If the rules stated that spelling mattered, then end of story. There has to be some kind of order and it can’t be rejected because a contestant is embarrassed. At what point does the misspelling make the answer wrong? Two letters off, three… four? Please.


      1. Love how you take this little incident and delve into the core and expand on it. Accountability is definitely what’s it’s all about. I think the parents are taking this way too far and hope this doesn’t become a major turning point in this kid’s world view and he becomes “the boy who was cheated by Jeopardy”. I’m sure the kid was embarrassed but if mistakes are made consequences have to be dealt with..

        Now, having said that, I also think some viewers (including myself) were miffed because we’ve seen them let misspellings slide before in Final Jeopardy. But I definitely didn’t think it was going to turn into a big media thing.


        1. I’ve heard from other people who said misspellings were allowed before. I looked for some kind of published rules, and what I found was that as the rounds progress, the requirements get stricter. It could be that misspellings were allowed in the first and second rounds, but with the final question, where the winner is ultimately determined, it has to be completely correct. That would make sense to me.


          1. In the earlier rounds all answers are verbal. They are strict on pronunciations, though. If you add a syllable, it’s not accepted. Also, since the winner is determined by money totals he was only in the running for 2nd place ($2,000) vs 3rd place ($1000). Before the final question one contestant already had already amassed over $30,000. The winner ultimately guessed correctly and wound up with over $60,000.

            I take my hat off to all of those kids, they’re really impressive.


            1. That’s what I saw, that this kid complaining had little to no chance of winning. Why then are the kid and his parents being so whiny about it? It’s not the end of the world, and in the grand scheme of things, $1,000 is not going to make a huge difference. I keep wondering if there is more to this than just a spelling error.


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