What the “Jeopardy debate” says about the standards we hold our children to.

I may get flack for this blog post, but I really don’t care. It is my opinion, and I am sticking to it.

In case you haven’t heard, there is a debate going around the internet about how Jeopardy (Alex Trebek in particular) handled an incorrect answer given by a young 12 year old boy named Thomas Hurley during “Kids Week” on the show. He made it to final Jeopardy, misspelled the answer, and as a result lost what he had wagered, leaving him in second place. I feel it is of particular importance to note that whether they had given him credit or not, he still would not have overcome the winner to attain first place, so it’s not as if this debate could even change the results.

Here is a link to the article from the Globe and Mail:


It comes down to a spelling error that cost him a correct answer. Even if he spelled it correctly, he still would have been in second place, with a total of $2000 awarded.


The internet is abuzz with people saying that they shouldn’t have let a mistake in spelling cost him his answer, since he obviously knew what the correct response was. People are chastising Alex Trebek, for saying “You misspelled it badly”, saying he was insensitive. People are saying they will never watch the show again, and that Trebek was too hard on him. The young boy himself is quoted as having said “It’s just upsetting to have lost that way. I don’t know why it would have counted as the wrong answer”.

Woah, woah, woah. Hold the phone.

He thinks that’s the reason he lost? Even if they counted it as correct, he wouldn’t have overcome the total of the winner, and would have still landed in second place. His lack of spelling skills is not the reason he is in second place. It is because he didn’t have enough correct answers throughout the entirety of the game to overcome the other player, no matter how much he decided to wager. The kids and teens who are on Jeopardy know how the game works, and are held to the same rules of the game as adult players are. Sadly for young Thomas, an adult who misspelled an answer would be held to the same result.

Secondly, the article is misleading. In its title, it calls the error a typo. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he wasn’t typing. He was writing. A typo occurs when you are typing and a finger mistakenly hits a key that is adjacent to the one you intended to push. It is a mistake in the writing/spelling process of printed material. He was writing by hand, so adding in an extra letter is not a typo. It is perhaps a lack of focus. It could even be put down to nerves. It isn’t, however a typo. In the end, it comes down to the fact that he spelled it wrong. If they allowed everyone who spelled answers incorrectly in final Jeopardy to be awarded for trying, where do you draw the line? If the answer were Bill Clinton, and I wrote Bil Cantin, and I claimed to have obviously meant Bill Clinton, it is unfair to the other contestants who have spelled it correctly.

Am I finished my rant? Hell no.

We are coddling our children in today’s society. Kids these days are growing up with computers, spell check, and grammar check. They don’t have to learn how to spell because a computer tells them how to do it. They are growing up without learning how to write cursive or sign their own name. Teenagers now have handwriting that resembles those in the 2nd grade. For shame.

A famous example of how handwriting skills have deteriorated. Written by Justin Bieber, who is 19 years old.

A famous example of how handwriting skills have deteriorated. Written by Justin Bieber, who is 19 years old. Had I just looked at the printing, and not known who wrote it, I would have assumed it was printed by a student in elementary school.

The thing is, we can’t blame just teachers for this. It falls on the parents, too. Parents who don’t hold their kids accountable for their poor grades. Parents who call up an employer after their child has a job interview to try and “help them secure the position”. Parents who call their children’s University professors to explain that “Sally was busy with basketball and didn’t get to study as much as she should. Could you please reconsider her grade of ‘C’ or give her another chance?”. We are not raising kids who learn to overcome failure and adversity. We are not raising kids who will be self-sufficient and able to take on the world on their own. We are raising kids who feel entitled.


We are raising little boys like poor Thomas Hurley, who is obviously an amazingly intelligent kid, but who feels slighted by “the man” because he doesn’t want to be held accountable for his own mistake. And that’s all it was – a mistake. Was it an unfortunate one? Of course it was! Did it severely change the course of the rest of his life. Of course it didn’t. He still got second place and ended up learning an important lesson. Double checking your work is important. His Mom and Dad won’t be able to secure everything for him for the rest of his life. It sucks. It’s embarrassing. It’s life.

Now do I feel that Trebek was slightly harsh by saying that it was badly misspelled? Of course I do. It wasn’t BADLY misspelled. It was one extra letter. It might have been more fitting to say “It’s regrettable that you didn’t double check your spelling. Unfortunately you did spell your answer incorrectly, therefore it cannot be counted as correct”.

Is all of this enough to make me stop watching Jeopardy? No. Life is hard, and the lessons we learn are hard.

Hopefully this boy will eventually look back on this event as simply that – a lesson learned.

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21 thoughts on “What the “Jeopardy debate” says about the standards we hold our children to.

  1. Heh. Wait, wait, wait….we all don’t get trophies for “winning together” in Jeopardy?

    Like you, we’re disgusted by the coddling of modern society. We have a Berenstain Bears book (circa 1980) called Ready, Get Set, Go! The Bear family is doing “family olympics” and each participant is either good, better, or best. Sister runs the fastest, she is the best runner. Brother climbs highest, he is the best climber. I took particular delight in finding this book among my stash of childhood favorites. No gilding the lilly. No “everyone tried, so everyone is a winner on the inside” fluff. There is a clear winner for every event and only one bear is the gold medal winner. It’s one of the twins’ favorite.

    We’re too obsessed with protecting feelings and not concerned enough about the resulting character our children form as a result.

  2. Oh how I wish I could hug you right now! This “incident” in particular, which has grown way out of proportion IMHO, is just one more example that accountability is becoming more and more a thing of the past. And I’m not just talking about the younger generation, even in my generation (born in the early 80s) I hear coworkers, friends and the average stranger always put the fault on someone else. I mean, seriously, things can’t always be someone else’s fault, right?

    I also see this a lot in my job. As a teacher, I am held accountable for pretty much everything that goes on in my classroom or with my students outside of class. I can understand being held accountable for a lot of things like when I forget the deadline for putting in the grades in the system come report card time (not that I would ever do something like that *ahem ahem*), but it infuriates me when my boss and parents try to hold me accountable for not being able to hand in signed documents on time (despite calling the parents 3 times, sending as many emails and leaving a note in the agenda), having a student fail a class because they have not handed any homework (“I’m sorry Jimmy couldn’t do this worksheet because he had hockey”), have not studied (“I’m sorry, Kevin didn’t have time to study for his test because we went on a family trip this weekend”), or just don’t give a damn (“I don’t need to pass my classes, my dad’s going to get me a job where he works).

    OK, rant over…I really should stop before I get any more worked up *sigh*.

  3. I love this. You are too right!
    When I heard that they had to enact a law to have children learn cursive, I was shocked. When did they stop teaching children cursive?? I understand that maybe they will not choose to write in cursive, but they still need to know how to read it for those people who do choose to write in cursive. And what about having a signature? Is there a generation of children who’s printed name and signature will look exactly the same?
    It’s kind of like those Shakespeare Made Easy books that have Shakespeare written in modern language. Children need to be able to learn new, difficult things. Quit trying to make everything so easy! Make kids learn, use their brains, and work hard to achieve something! Geez!

  4. Well said! I was actually thinking about that particular cartoon in the beginning of your rant… I wholeheartedly stand by what was said…
    Except for the cursive.. It’s become outdated and largely unnecessary… 🙂

  5. The cartoon and your words totally depict the ethos that people do not take responsibility for their own actions. We have to. We live and learn and then we try harder next time. Case very well presented.:)x

  6. I hadn’t heard about the hub-bub, but I’m glad to find someone who chose to write about it who actually has common sense. Unfortunately, this is a part of the problem. Parents (and even collectively as society) who don’t want to hold children responsible and push them to have the drive to do better. We’ll be a nation of complacent ninnies as the generations keep passing. Hoping to do right by my children and teach them to try their best and give their all.

    Great write up!

  7. I agree. I am also against medals just for playing, and teachers not being allowed to give a mark of zero for work not handed in. Which happens here all the time.

  8. I totally agree! Props to the kid for being so smart as to appear on jeopardy, but in the real world if you spell something wrong, the answer is wrong. Especially in college-they don’t baby you and wipe your butt. If you are going to give an answer, spell it correctly.

  9. As someone who worked her butt off in high school to be valedictorian, only to find that anyone with an unweighted 4.0 qualified (my clad of 200 had 4, seriously), I want to say THANK YOU for writing this.

  10. hells yes! lol.
    I agree 100%, and I’m pretty shocked by that ‘handwritting’ sample by JB – I try not to join in with the very popular trend of bullying him online, but that is freaking disgraceful.

  11. I think Alex was a bit rough on him. It’s a tough word for some adults, not that I’m taking their side but I think he came pretty close to be a letter off.

  12. I absolutely agree with you! I think this is a society that coddles our children and then just throws them into the real world with no idea how to handle a situation when they make mistakes or reach a problem. I would rather my child earn a trophy then just get one and I can’t see myself yelling at a teacher for giving an F when the homework wasn’t done. Thems the breaks kid, do the work and get the reward. Nothing comes easy in life. If you rely on autocorrect and computers, you are going to be a bad speller with even worse handwriting. Cause and effect.

  13. My father-in-law (who is my husband’s step dad and has no children of his own) asked if my daughter would learn to print and write considering everything is digital these days. Um, yes she will learn to write! My gosh, its crazy how computers are dumbing people down. What if computers crash and nobody knows how to write or do long hand mathematics? Really scary. I also agree that there is too much coddling these days with kids. My daughter is about to start kindergarten…it will be an interesting experience for all of us.

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