More than a few times over the years, I’ve filled this space with “Facebook Fails” or “AutoCorrect Accidents,” a collection of unfortunate misspellings. These word mishaps are caused by technology, confusion, a lack of spelling smarts, or all of the above.
Most often, the most commonly misspelled words are those we have to look up every time we write them. You know, the ones with all those letters. Does “harassment” have two r’s and one ‘s’ or is it the other way around?
The funniest ones are those in which an extra letter, or a few missing letters can change the entire meaning. For instance, I have to laugh when restaurants ask us to “try our bottomless salad bowels,” or when a girl writes on Facebook that she loves the smell of the “colon” her boyfriend is using. (“It’s that new Johnny Depp colon, his picture is on the front.”)
All these are good for a cheap laugh, and I’ve proven I’m not above that. But it actually begs a serious question: Does spelling even matter anymore?
The fact that you are reading a newspaper tells me your answer is most likely, “Of course it does! I took pride in my education! When I was in school, Mrs. (your teacher’s name here) DRILLED the basics into us. We couldn’t pass from fifth grade to sixth without learning the foundations of proper spelling, reading, and writing. Why aren’t they teaching that in school these days?”
Let me assure you, those basics are still being taught. It’s not exactly like we learned them in the chalk dust days, but they’re still a part of the curriculum.
So why are we seeing so many embarrassing (I had to look that one up) mistakes on social media, on signs, and even on the news? A recent headline on a big city newspaper blared, “Is Your Child’s School To Easy?” I don’t know which school that writer attended, but it should have been a bit more challenging.
In my quest for answers, I went to the front lines. I talked to teachers about the kids they’ve been teaching, promoting, and graduating in recent years. I said, “We had to learn your, you’re, there, their, and they’re. Why does it seem that everyone born after you and me missed out on those lessons?”
One educator said when he was growing up, his “out of school” reading material consisted of the newspaper and a couple of news magazines. He said, “Good writing was ingrained in me. It’s what I saw every day, and I’m grateful that it stuck with me.” Now, he says, kids are overwhelmed by websites, many of which use slang words. He says some teens read very little outside of each other’s texts and posts, which are often filled with grammatical errors. “They use their own language,” he said, “and they truly believe words should be spelled like they sound. I think they know the difference between ‘ketchup’ and ‘catchup’ but as far as they’re concerned, either one is correct.”
A teacher who is also the mom of a sixth grader told me, “With so much pressure on meeting the necessary benchmarks, and getting ready for the dreaded state test, spelling is just not a priority anymore. Once you finish third grade, that’s about it. I have high school students that can’t read. Even things like capitalizing the beginning of a sentence just don’t happen. I’m on my sixth grader like crazy when he does work that looks like garbage, but his teachers don’t seem to mind. It’s frustrating.”
In ninth grade, students once analyzed “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Odyssey.” One ninth-grade English teacher told me such assignments are increasingly out of her students’ grasp. “I have students ask me how to spell something, even when they have the Internet at their fingertips,” she said. “They ask me to spell simple words like: water, garden, and hero.” I’m not sure if phonics, spelling, or vocabulary tests have been part of this generation’s educational experience, like they were for me.”
Also from the ninth grade classroom: “Laziness is a big contributor. I have had students spell their own name wrong on an assignment. They just want to complete their work quickly, so they can have a reward, like listen to music, or just sit there and do nothing for the rest of class.”
She concluded, “I’m not really sure when the collapse of good spelling, capitalization, and punctuation began, but it is a massive problem with this generation. It is truly bewildering that I have to cover elementary level grammar standards with so many ninth grade students.”
I believe teachers are trying, but they need help. If parents emphasize good reading and writing habits at home, it builds a good foundation. But if they don’t, their kids may never ketchup.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.