Just a Spelling Error

Just a spelling errorA 12-year-old contestant on Jeopardy cried foul when his Final Jeopardy answer was rejected because he’d misspelled it. The desired answer was the Emancipation Proclamation. The boy spelled the first word as “emanciptation.

The boy would not have won in any case, but he felt he’d been done wrong by being faulted for a misspelled word:

“I was pretty upset that I was cheated out of the final Jeopardy! question. It was just a spelling error.” —Thomas Hurley III

Just a spelling error.

The boy’s attitude is common these days, even among grown-ups. Even among teachers.

Spelling doesn’t matter. Grammar doesn’t matter. All that matters according to this attitude is getting the spelling or syntax or word choice “close enough” for the reader to figure out what is intended.

How is it that when it comes to preparing your taxes  or writing computer code, “close enough” is not good enough, but when it comes to literacy,  “almost” is OK?

The ability to spell the words one uses is a basic educational skill. It does not require a high I.Q.

It does require early instruction and the continued insistence of every teacher of every subject that children spell words correctly for every important written assignment.

I’m sorry that the little boy on Jeopardy was indignant rather than embarrassed. He’s obviously very bright and has mastered a lot of academic content.

I fault his teachers and other adults in his life who have  permitted him to develop the attitude that the academic information required to spell English words is of less importance than the information required to answer a question on American history.

Parents, beware of teachers who say they don’t count off for spelling errors. Especially beware of K-3 teachers who brag about how they encourage their children to use “invented” spelling. The job of the K-3 teacher is to equip children not only with basic writing skills, but also with respect and appreciation for the tools of literacy.

Related Link:
The appalling theory of “Invented Spelling” is one reason that school children grow up confused about English spelling and finally decide that spelling doesn’t matter.

3 Responses

  1. Rob,
    I’m not sure any more what the educationists mean by “literacy” these days. I still think it means “the ability to read and write,” and that children can be expected to acquire these skills in the early grades. However, some schools now have high school “literacy classes.” I think they may be what we used to call “English classes,” but I may be wrong.

  2. Hey Maeve

    I am consentient with you and feel the same way about pronunciation. The next step: “In grammar and spelling ‘close enough’ is not good enough, but when it comes to literacy, ‘almost’– or not even close– is okay?”

  3. I am grateful that my primary reading education was by way of phonics. (Rudolph Flesch wrote a wonderful book, “Why Johnny Can’t Read”, about the importance of phonics). The subsequent introduction of “sight-reading” as a replacement for phonics helped to create a generation of poor spellers. Of course, since I’m ninety years old (630 in dog years), I tend to be backward-looking with a fondness for the good old days. Regards, Conrad

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