Perhaps there’s no need to teech speling in scool.
At least that’s how some people reacted to a recent edition of “Jeopardy.” Or, if you prefer, “Jeperdee.”
Their reactions stemmed from an incident in which 12-year-old Thomas Hurley III correctly identified a question in the “Final Jeopardy” portion on a Kids Week episode of the program, but misspelled his answer. Instead of “emancipation,” he wrote “emanciptation.” The show’s judged ruled his answer incorrect, costing him $3,000.
The Connecticut eighth-grader and his family complained that he had been cheated, resulting in an online uproar from viewers. Some felt he had been unfairly penalized for a minor mistake. Others sided with the judges, pointing out “a rule is a rule.”
The reactions I found most interesting, though, appeared on USA Today’s Facebook page.
“Unlike math, poor spelling rarely limits breadth of thought or the ability to communicate effectively,” one reader wrote. “All it does is make a poor impression on those who have nothing better to do than critique. There are plenty of hard subjects to master in school and in life; spelling probably isn’t one of them.”
Added another, “Spelling matters in that there are certain rules you follow to show that you are paying attention. It’s got nothing to do with real smarts, though.”
As someone who also has nothing to do with real smarts, I have to concede they may have a point. The purpose of writing, after all, is to communicate. So if you write “nite” rather than “night,” what’s the difference? Readers will know what you mean. I once received an email from a reader who said someone had been put on a “pedalstool.” But I knew she meant “pedestal.”
Besides, that’s what spell check is for. As long as you know a few of the letters, the computer will fix it for you, although even the most sophisticated computer programs can be tripped up by the complexity of the English language. Aisle, isle, I’ll. So, sew, sow. There, their, they’re. And if you text someone about meeting at a place because it has band music, it could come out “banned music” and you’d be disappointed when you got there. Or their.
Clearly, spelling is not taken nearly as seriously as it was in the days when it was a big item on report cards, along with penmanship and diagramming sentences.
I’m holding myself up as an expert; I’m a decent speller, but probably wouldn’t reach the second round against 12-year-olds in a spelling bee.
But I think it’s still one of those hard subjects that deserve to be mastered in school.
Even if I can’t exactly spell out the reason.