Photo by Erin M, Flickr

In 1931, the historian James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream as “a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable.” His book, The Epic of America, may have popularized the term, but the dream dates back at least to the Declaration of Independence, with its invocation of equality and the pursuit of happiness. And since the early days of the Republic, it has been entwined with education, an achievement for which the ability to spell well served as a proxy—at least before spell-checking software came along.

Amy Crawford, in a recent piece for Smithsonian Magazine. Crawford looked at how social class in America shapes success—as reflected through the fates of the Spellbound cast, 13 years after the acclaimed spelling bee documentary’s release.

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