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Sun., Sept. 5, 2010, 5:56 a.m.

Why bother learning to spell?

Good morning, Netizens...

Last week students in Oregon got a heck of a message from their state school board. They no longer need to learn to spell when a computer can do it for them. From now on, seventh-graders and high-school students can use automated spelling checkers to correct their mistakes when they take state writing tests. School officials explained that spell-checkers are an acceptable part of life in in the workplace, college, post-secondary training and the military. Welcome to the newest standard of the “dumbing down of America”.

I have some problems with this.

Next year, you can count on students getting better grade scores on their writing tests. Hey, that could give parents and educators the false impression that their kids' writing is doing just fine, their spelling is getting better, couldn't it? Impeccably-written texts, all checked by a spell-checker, free of any errors, while the kids are incapable of writing a sentence in longhand. If you demote spelling from a requisite skill to an optional frill, it sends a message from adults and educators that kids are incapable of learning how to spell well, hence kids won't bother to attempt to learn how.

Most writing is done on computers today, and spell-checking is nearly ubiquitous. Learning how to use or abuse Microsoft Word is nearly mandatory in high schools these days, despite the inherent errors in the spell-checking code. Of course, as former President Andrew Jackson wisely once stated, "It's a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word."

The relationship between spelling and reading comprehension is high. The more deeply and thoroughly a student knows and understands a word, the more likely he or she is likely to recognize, spell, define and use it both in writing and speech.

Aren't words such lovely things? Students who learn how to navigate the world of the printed word also learn how to think quickly and independently even when disconnected from a computer. Egods, imagining a world bereft of cogent spelling places us in intellectual poverty, does it not?

Unfortunately, that seems to be the direction we are heading, at least according to some educators.


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Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.