Last week, as I was grocery shopping in a large local chain supermarket, I encountered the following sign.
I brought my shopping cart to an abrupt halt. I gaped. No, it wasn’t a sudden craving for pretzEls begging to be satisfied, but a nearly uncontrollable urge to whip out my trusty Sharpie and correct the not one but TWO egregious errors in the notice.
Yes, I am a retired teacher, but, more to the point, I am (fessing up, here) a compulsive speller. Incorrect spelling drives me crazy. I have seen the viral Internet thingies such as the following
I cnduo’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae.
and understand that we don’t really need conventional spelling to understand a writer’s message. But I need it. I do not like “lite” yogurt. and, although I am certain MiracleGro does wonders for plant life, there is something in me that believes those needy seedlings would blossom even more if they were fed Miracle Grow.
I laughed aloud at the Internet “meme” circulating a while ago featuring a sign advertising “Black Angus” beef used in hamburgers, but the “g” had been left out. Think about it.
I taught 1st grade for many years, and one would think that six year olds’ imaginative attempts to write would have driven a compulsive speller around the proverbial bend. But no; I am at one with the developmental nature of early spelling, and gloried in my young students’ creative attempts to set their ideas down in writing. I was delighted to see Bobby write about the “youmungist chranchlu” that he had seen in the pet store. He could have written “big bug,” but this child has a future in effectively using descriptive language.
But Bobby does have to ease into the wonders of “book” spelling; thus the inevitable spelling words lists and spelling tests and other academic staples.
I also taught 5th grade for many years, and between 1st and 5th grades something interesting happens in the spelling department. In the Nature/Nurture debate, Spelling Division, nature is beginning to win out. I am utterly convinced that spelling is genetic; you either have the spelling gene or you don’t.
I do. I can say I am an excellent speller and not be bragging because I believe I was born that way, and it has very little to do with intelligence or academic aptitude. My stepmother was a brilliant woman, Phi Beta Kappa at Mount Holyoke, and she couldn’t spell well enough to even use a dictionary effectively. Were she alive today, she would have been one of those unfortunates who couldn’t even rely on SpellCheck. Her attempts would be so far off that SpellCheck’s suggestions would be worthless.
And yet she survived, and thrived, and had a long and meaningful life.
I, on the other hand, am a human SpellCheck, often very useful to overworked colleagues in a hurry and subject to fits of wincing when encountering misspelled words in the environment, but otherwise no better off for my weird little talent.
So when Bobby gets to 5th grade, and still seems to be writing with spelling like a 1st grader, what’s to do? Of course, there is the very real possibility that Bobby is just lazy and can’t be bothered, but any alert teacher would be well aware of that aspect of his academic personality and would be working on correcting it.
But in my opinion, it’s just possible that Bobby is missing that spelling gene, and will struggle with it his entire life. I have been known to tell astonished parents that yes, their child’s spelling is atrocious, but he is one of those kids who will have a lifelong problem with it. Work around it. Have word lists and glossaries accessible. Help him on the computer so that SpellCheck will at least have a shot at providing a meaningful alternative.
But don’t fret. Being a compulsive speller can be aggravating at times, and chances are, like my stepmother, your child will thrive without it.
Spelling. It has its place. And it still matters.
And its place is in signs, brochures, menus, advertisements – any place a reasonably intelligent person should take the time and effort to get it right, even if it takes a little longer. End of sermon.