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Why do children of Indian immigrants dominate American spelling bees?


Sriram Hathwar of Painted Post, N.Y., is greeted by family members after he and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth won the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition in National Harbor, Md. Both are Indian Americans.

Prof. Victor Mair (Language Log) asks the question, concluding with this:

The last eight national champions and thirteen of the last seventeen have been of Indian descent, a string of victories that began in 1999 with Nupur Lala’s win.

Given the extremely difficult and competitive nature of the spelling bees, it is impossible that the continuing domination of the spelling bees by Indian students over such an extended period is a fluke or an accident. There must be a rational explanation for their success, some secret to their prowess. Consequently, I would like to reopen the debate on this subject and welcome suggestions for making sense of this astonishing phenomenon.

It is indeed a very interesting question, and I’d love to hear what our readers think about it. Please avoid generic answers, such as “the commitment of Indian immigrant parents to education,” unless you can explain why Indian immigrants are much more committed to education than other comparably sized groups and subgroups, including the millions of American parents of generations-ago European extraction who are committed to education. (Even if the average Indian American parent is more committed to education than the average European American parent, there are many more European Americans than Indian Americans, and there are plenty of European American parents who are quite committed to education.)

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.



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