An elementary school teacher confided in me recently that he encouraged his first graders not to worry about spelling.
“Just get the idea down,” he urges them when they are blocked by uncertainty about how to spell a particular word. “Your ideas are what are most important. No one ever reads the work of a famous writer to enjoy the good grammar and spelling.”
True, and perhaps suitable in Grade One, but I wouldn’t support such a strategy for too much longer. Spelling may seem irrelevant in the world of ideas and creativity, but in the cold, cruel adult world, correct spelling is also an indicator of education and, by extension, of social class. As harsh as it may seem, strangers will judge you based on your written words, as well as your speech. Poor spelling marks you, rightly or wrongly, as sloppy or uneducated; even worse, you may be condemned as unintelligent. It’s not the impression you wish to make on a prospective employer.
Good spelling habits are often just that: habits. If children are required to learn correct spelling at an early age and are forced to correct mistakes, it is to be hoped that they are sensitive to the need to spell correctly throughout their lives. Practice makes perfect, too. The spelling bee was undoubtedly created to encourage youngsters to make a game of learning to spell properly. (“Language. That’s L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E. Language.”)
Spelling is a challenge, especially in this age of technology and texting. It may appear to be a useless skill when one can simply run a document through the computer’s spell checker or send a text message that pares words to bare essentials: How r u? Those of us who insist on precision may appear uptight and unnecessarily rule-bound. So be it
As informal as our world can be, formal language still has its place. And unfortunately for those who denigrate spelling prowess, correct language is often necessary when there is a lot on the line, such as a potential job or a chance to impress a supervisor with a well-written proposal or presentation.
Don’t encourage children get off to a poor start with incorrect spelling. Creativity is wonderful and laudable, but rules exist to help us all get along. For those who want to succeed, spelling rules are worth mastering.