Spelling has gotten a new lease on life, albeit probably temporary. This week I was able to see the play “The 25th Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Chicago’s Drury Lane, which highlighted what kids go through in trying to spell words which few to none would ever use in ordinary conversation.
The play follows the youngsters through the contest and answers what they eventually become. It made me think about spelling in general, which, at best, is an endangered art form.
Having a journalism degree and some years in reporting, I always thought that spelling was important. And, judging by the late City News Service, where reporters of note (not me) were trained, one could, at least, get one thing right in any given story?”that being a person’s name. One was always taught to get a person’s name right, including the middle name or initial, if at all possible.
Suffice to say, it is an uncommon act when even a reporter asks how to spell a name, unless the name is so odd that they have nary a guess how to construct it without asking. In some 30 years of government service, I have had exactly seven reporters ask how to spell my name. They got it right. The others invariably almost always got it wrong because the common spelling of Baar is Barr. Hence, I would become a Barr and not a Baar.
That sounds like small potatoes when it comes to complaint. Yet, if a reporter spells the name wrong, just think of what else could be wrong in the story?
Spelling is just not pushed anymore. In the last quarter century when all positions of power in corporations were held by men and all secretaries were women, the men claimed that they did not need to know how to spell, because their secretaries would correct any misspelling they came up with.
But then the corporations changed. CEOs became coed as did secretaries, now known as administrative assistants, who were expected to do far more than any, traditional secretary ever thought possible.
Now there was equality, in that the female CEOs were just as bad at spelling as their male counterparts, and the new age secretaries also did not know how to spell.
Now they could all declare that spelling was not necessary because computers had “spell check.” The machine could be blamed for any misspelling. Since there are often correctly spelled words which can be dropped into a sentence but still be wrong because the machine cannot detect the wrong version of the word, spelling was lost to us again. For instance, does a computer really know the difference between “to,” “two” and “too”?
There had been a fail safe in the past to teach spelling?”and, for that matter, good English. It was called Latin. You know, that “dead” language which Caesar used to mumble before he got the knife, and which Church Fathers still use for official communication when they are trying to be universal.
But, alas, cuts in school budgets and rare needs to deal with a dead language when we had living languages to teach, caused Latin to be chucked in almost all schools.
With Latin gone, one could only hope an English Department at any given school could teach spelling along with the other nuances of the English language, since youngsters no longer bother diagramming sentences.
Maybe we could bring back more spelling bees by suggesting that they are school versions of reality shows. Or, maybe a video game could be developed around them to gain the interest of students. They can be fun, although a bit nerve-wracking for the contestants, which the play highlights.
In fact, it could be the source of yet another government program?”maybe something called No Word Left Behind.