Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spell Check

The media is agog this morning with video of the national spelling bee.  Most eyes are on a little six year old competitor who is the epitome of the precocious, home-schooled child.  That's right, she is only six.  Unfortunately our heroine left the competition after incorrectly spelling ingluvies a word nobody uses that has something to do with a bird's throat or esophagus.  You see where this is going.  What strikes me most about the little girl's defeat is the crestfallen look on her face.  One wonders if this isn't some form of emotional abuse?  I agree that it is important to spell correctly, but at what cost?
An educator I admire, Hugo Kerr, believes that there is an emotional component to asking kids to spell correctly all the time.  In a recent post on a list-serv we both belong to he wrote:
     "...spelling is not related to writing technically speaking, but it is closely related emotionally! Most less than perfectly literate adults are vary wary of writing because people are so censorious about spelling.  To spell imperfectly attracts more opprobrium than is reasonable.  IMO, and it frightens would be writers into being non writers.  We overcook spelling accuracy and undercook writing flair.  (Shakespeare was, of course, a 'bad' speller, as was his queen Elizabeth the first.) spelling is a trivial thing, elevated, sometimes to the status of literacy, itself.
To me, the spelling bee is a form of madness!  And to concentrate such power in spelling, is, or can be, quite profoundly harmful.  I do applaud...ideas about exploring spelling from the viewpoint of history, roots, relations, etc. if done in a democratic and non threatening way this is helpful to students. Partly because it lets them understand that English spelling is not the deadly and irrational system they may have been led to believe it is, but actually helpful and interesting, and taken with a bit of kindness."
......Hugo then added a piece of the poem that follows: Spelling is spelling, nothing more. It isn't ownership, and nor Does it amount to writing, it Isn't wisdom, truth or wit. Writing that's beautiful, or true, Has its influence on you Not, for heaven's sake because Of how the bloody spelling was! (taken from the poem entitled 'spellism')

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