Why Are Our Schools So Proud of Bad Spellers?

Jeanne Sager
50

writingGrammar nuts of the world, it's time to sit shiva for spelling. It's slowly being murdered. But I don't blame the texting. I think the real problem may be our public schools.

Every day my 5-year-old comes home with a new pile of worksheets. I'm starting to think there's a deal with the paper companies; they take down a tree a day in kindergarten. And every day I find big stars and flowery compliments on top of pages riddled with misspellings.

"I go up the slibe"

"We go to the prk" "

"I said my dad looks prite"

This is what I'm sending my kid to kindergarten for? To be praised for chewing up the English language and spitting it out, one mangled word at a time? Welcome to the new spelling, other parents tell me. They're not supposed to get it right.

In fact when I pulled out the pile of papers the teacher gave us back on open house night in September, there's a form that encourages us to "praise your child's early [read crappy] attempts at writing," and takes us through levels one through seven -- of which only one, the very last, resembles anything close to the words you see on your computer screen right now.

We were taught words and how to spell them correctly. But what we had down in nursery school -- scribble and pictorial "writing" -- is on this list from kindergarten. After that, our kids are being gently led through a process of "precommunicative" writing, then "semiphonetics" then (finally) phonetics. And after that there are still two more steps.

I finally understand the parents who "over-help" with their kids' homework. It is physically painful for me to say "oh yes, that's wonderful" over her shoulder when I see she's spelled like with a "y." Because if I say it's a job well done,  Mom just gave her approval. It's right. She might as well file that one away as a "how to do it next time." What's the incentive for her to learn to do it correctly?

Even the form from her school confuses me -- it warns that by the time she's a "conventional" speller, she'll "spell most words correctly [but] may use phonics-based spelling for advanced words." OK, fair enough. But then there's this gem: "remember, we can only expect children to correctly spell words they have already learned!"

Wait a minute, you're letting them spell the words INCORRECTLY to begin with. They don't ever seem to learn to "correctly spell words" when the reward for waxing poetic about the "slibe" on the playground is awarded with a giant "awesome" atop the paper.

I would feel better about their assurance that she'll get it eventually if it weren't for the misspelled statuses I see daily on Facebook:

  • From a 15-year-old who attends my daughter's school: "my baby left for her cruise 2day nd i miss her alredy"
  • From another 15-year-old, same school: "I have cute stuff in my closet I haven't wore in months"
  • From a 14-year-old, same school: "ill be very blunt... we neverrr talk"

Quick, someone make this mother an "It Gets Better" video about spelling. Because the way I see it, unless I go all Tiger Mom on her homework, I'm going to add another member to the world's illiterate population. I love my daughter. I'm proud of her. But I'm not going to praise her spelling until it's right.

Do you feel like the schools are too easy on poor spelling?

 

Image via isox4/Flickr

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