What’s the Relevance of the Bible Bee? November 24, 2009

What’s the Relevance of the Bible Bee?

I love watching the Spelling Bee — despite what a lot of people think, most of the participants will tell you they don’t try to memorize every word in the dictionary. It’s next to impossible and not a good use of time.

Instead, you should brush up on the derivations of words and know all the common prefixes and suffixes. When you get a word you’ve never heard of before, it’s still possible to spell it correctly simply by asking information about the origin of the word from the judges.

It’s about analysis a lot more than it is about memorization.

How relevant is it to real life? Tough question. Though I’d bet most of the kids who do exceptionally well in the Spelling Bee are going to do impressive things in the future. It takes a good brain to understand how to analyze words like that.

I can’t say the same thing about the Bible Bee.

Now the bee concept has gone biblical. Culled from more than 17,000 students ages 7-18, the National Bible Bee finals grilled 21 children on their knowledge of Scripture. The five-hour finals this month were preceded by regional competitions in 49 of the 50 states in September, oral contests and SAT-like tests for 300 contestants.

“Kids are learning to spell words,” Mark Rasche, executive director of the bee, recalled the benefactor saying [about the Spelling Bee]. “That’s great, but there’s no eternal value.”

Apparently, though, there is value in knowing answers to the following:

Picture 1

That list goes on for quite a while…

You can see those questions and more for yourself at the Bee-liever’s Handbook (PDF)

Look at the study materials. This is straight up memorization. You’re not going to work your way to the right answer if you don’t already know it.

That’s why the children who do well at this event don’t impress me as much as the good spellers always do.

I would love to know how the Christian running this thing would react if they knew Muslim children in the Middle East were doing the same thing with the Koran.

At least we can safely say you won’t hear atheists asking children to memorize The God Delusion. You’re welcome to love the book or hate it, agree or disagree, read it or don’t.

More importantly, you can respect the ideas presented in a book. But memorizing one just for the sake of memorizing it? Seems pointless to me.

(Thanks to Deanna for the link!)

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  • Valdyr

    Educators have known for quite awhile that rote memorization results in less long-term retention of concepts than the kind of curriculum where material is used in applied problem-solving to test understanding of key ideas.

  • This is why the scientific process is embraced by all Atheists. How you know is always more important than what you know.

  • PaleoAtheist027


    Actually it isn’t. This is exactly what people mean when they talk about the “New Atheists”.

    Atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in the traditional concept of god.

    New Atheism is positivism and transhumanism, a dogmatic belief that there is only the material world and that knowledge is only possible through strict reductionist empiricism. It’s a reification, if not deification, of the scientific method and research.

    Please don’t speak for the rest of us.

  • Hmmm. What does it tell that the answers to the first question are sprinkled throughout the rest of the text…

  • Christophe Thill

    “What is the main message of Leviticus?”

    Errr… what is that if you don’t play by the rules, you’ll be seized and brutally killed?

  • Trace

    Name the five Stages of Acquisition

  • Tony

    I’d like to hazard a guess as to one of the twelve C words in the bible. Not sure if my answer will be correct though.

  • Ben

    Educators have known for quite awhile that rote memorization results in less long-term retention of concepts than the kind of curriculum where material is used in applied problem-solving to test understanding of key ideas.

    Well ok then, if you insist. Here’s some bats, lets go find some queers!

  • Matt

    What’s even sadder is I can answer most of these.

  • I just hope the money earned by the winner doesn’t wind up in church coffers. I hope it goes toward a real education with practical knowledge and experience he can use throughout his life.

  • “there’s no eternal value” in learning how to spell? Oh. My. Gosh. How do these people not fall down more?

  • Linda

    I would love to know how the Christian running this thing would react if they knew Muslim children in the Middle East were doing the same thing with the Koran.

    They would deny it vehemently and call you the devil. 😉

  • jemand

    this seems to interpose a whole lot of interpretation into the text. when I was a young teen, I was involved in a bible bee which was much more interested in asking stuff like the names of Haman’s ten sons from the book of Esther.

    I’m now an atheist. It taught me study techniques, I think it’s fine lol. Theists are scared of me now. I’m pretty sure there are other prominent atheists or scientists who once were winners of bible bee type activities.

  • Sue

    The main message of Leviticus? Last time I read it I came away with the message that:

    a) Almost anything can be forgiven if you kill a pigeon afterwards.
    b) Priests love roast pigeon.

  • Angie

    “Kids are learning to spell words … That’s great, but there’s no eternal value.”

    Yeah, who needs silly real-life skills that will help kids navigate society and understand the world around them? All that matters is that they’re getting the right religious indoctrination!

    :: groans ::

  • Rokugo

    I would argue that the religious have darn good reason for memorizing the bible. According to their beliefs, it contains the actual words of the creator of the whole freakin’ universe. If I had such a document, you better believe I’d read the whole thing through hundreds of times, studying every word. I am most astounded when believers -don’t- invest thousands of hours into reading it.

    On the subject of spelling, in this modern age of computers, there’s no reason to learn correct spelling anymore. Notice how thanks to spell check and how easily it integrates with the web browser, it’s darn near impossible to find a typo anywhere on the internet. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some youtube videos to comment on.

  • mkb

    Maybe when these kids get to high school they can be on Bible Quiz teams: http://wbqa.org/whatisbq.htm. Bible quizzing, as I understand it, is much more based on the actual scriptures and less on interpretation than the Bible Bee.

  • Stephen P

    Actually there is one question in there that is important, at least if you live in a fundy area:

    How many times does the Bible claim to be the actual words of God?

    Because the answer is zero.

    Or, to be more precise: the fundies I’ve challenged on the subject couldn’t come up with any. God is quoted in various places, but there are no claims that the rest of the text is God’s word.

  • @Matt: me, too. What I was surprised about when I read over that part of the list is that I couldn’t answer ALL of them. 🙂 We did a lot of Bible drill kind of stuff growing up, mostly in AWANA. That’s more verse memorization, though, not weird obscure facts. Though we did have to know which books fell into which categories in the Old and New Testament (major prophets, minor prophets, poetry, gospels, etc).

    And we didn’t play Trivia, we played BIBLE Trivia. The last time I tried to play regular people Trivia, the game ended in tears, I am embarrassed to admit. 😀

  • David D

    Those C words are pure evil. Camping, confinement, captivity… repressed memories of boy scout experiences come flooding back.

  • Joffan

    These strike me as the worst kind of quiz: the one where someone has decided on a right answer and you have to guess it. Your answer may be a perfectly accurate response to the question, but if it doesn’t agree with a magic answer sheet, you fail.

    The classic example there is the first question. Someone has somehow force-fit some aspects of these myths into an alliterative list (creation, clan, confinement, commandments, camping, covenant, conquest, cycles, crowns, chasm, captivities, construction, can I have my candy); produce some other perfectly reasonable list of words and you’re toast.

    So a good primer into sycophancy but as Hemant says, not much good to encourage actual learning, understanding or analysis skills.

  • BEX

    Name the five Stages of Acquisition


  • steve

    At least Muslim children who memorize the entire Koran can make some serious coin. A professor in Palestine told me prize money can run upwards of $50K USD.

  • Considering the number of kids that spend hours on video games and copying stunts from pro wrestling, I think a Bible Bee, a Quran Competition or even a Grammar Rodeo are great options. I know all about Bloom’s Taxonomy and how memorization is a low-level skill. I also know that you can’t get past the first semester of med school if you can’t memorize like a pro.

  • Polly


    The main message of Leviticus?
    a) Almost anything can be forgiven if you kill a pigeon afterwards.
    b) Priests love roast pigeon.

    I literally laughed out loud. 🙂

    My recollections were mainly offals and stonings.

  • Stacy M.

    The main message of Leviticus?

    NO frigging yeast! He cannot stand that sh*t.

  • Jude

    I used to participate in Bible competitions (ours were called Bible Bowls) and I found them great fun. I also find it rarely useful to still be able to turn to nearly any book in the Bible on the first try. Of course, I was also a spelling champ. It was just another thing for a smart kid to do in a small town.

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