Inventive Spelling: A Misguided Effort Towards Real Education or A Sinister Plot To Dumb Down The Population?
In my travels around the internet, I've noticed a few trends taking shape and/or gathering steam in the bloggosphere. One of the hot topics of discussion is the lack of available jobs for college graduates, as well as blue collar workers. Heck, at this time, there's a scarcity of employment for everyone of working age! The other topic has to do with the incredibly low percentage of college graduates who are capable of producing a written piece without an abundance of spelling and grammatical errors.
Interesting enough, interviewed employers are stating that poor spelling abilities, lack of skill for writing thoughts in a logical order, and lack of grammatical skills are all reasons potential candidates will not even make it into the interview process.
In its 2007 report, the organization LEAP (Liberal Education and America's Promise) noted what business leaders wanted colleges to place additional emphasis upon. Ranked at the top of the list was an 82% perceived need for more emphasis to be placed on teaching about science and technology. 73% of those who participated in the discussions asked for more emphasis of written and oral communication, and also, 73% expressed the need for increasing students' skill in critical thinking and analytic reasoning.
Just four years later, the 2010 report shows that 89% of the polled employers want more emphasis placed on written and oral communication, an increase of 16%. The need for more educational efforts regarding critical thinking and analytic reasoning rose 8% to a total of 81%. And though the need for more emphasis on science and technology was the #1 concern in 2007, it had dropped in importance, being rated at a mere 70% in 2010.
Coming in at #3 for 2010, 79% of involved employers feel a college education needs to include more emphasis on applied knowledge in real-world settings. In other words, employers want to know that college graduates are able to take their book smarts and apply the knowledge gained in a professional work setting. They want graduates to come with some work experience related to their fields of study. The only way to achieve this is for colleges and universities to incorporate more effort into coordinating sponsored internships, both paid and unpaid, for their students. By doing so, the frustrating cycle of not being able to get hired because of lack of experience, may be alleviated to some degree.
The most telling results of LEAP's efforts serves to underscore the growing belief that American students are graduating from high school and college without the basic skills of communicating through the written word. High on the list of polled employers throughout the country, concern for an overall lack of spelling ability has been a major factor in keeping other possibly qualified applicants from attaining a position.
The high incidence of increasingly bad spellers, graduating from the public education systems, has led many to look for the root cause. Depending on who is asked, the answers are varied. Most parents of school aged children believe it is the fault of the teachers and/or the curriculum being taught. Take for instance, the mother who wrote in a blog about the instructions she received for praising her 5 year old's attempts at writing.
Parents were given written instructions by the school on how to parent their children in regards to praising their efforts in the classroom. The mother in question was very concerned about the massive amounts of papers brought home each day, which contained content riddled with misspellings. At the tops of all these papers, the teacher had planted big smiley stickers, drawn huge stars, and written statements such as “Super Job” and “Terrific”. Not one paper displayed any effort on the part of the teacher to correct any mistakes. It was if the mistakes were of no importance.
The instructions, of course, covered the why's and wherefore's, but Mom wasn't all that convinced. Her common sense was battling with educational opinion. The instructions heavily recommended praising the child's early attempts, while refraining from correcting the glaring mistakes. Parents were informed of the 7 levels the students would be taken through in the process of being educated to write. The supplied explanation of the process warned that the child would still be using phonetic spellings for more advanced words, by the end of the 7th step. They advised, “remember, we can only expect children to correctly spell words they have already learned!”
The problem with this type of educating is that they aren't learning the correct spelling of any words if we don't correct them right from the beginning. If children are praised for doing something, they will assume they've done it correctly and so, will repeat the action in order to earn another reward. How is that going to teach them the correct way to spell? It's perfectly acceptable to praise their efforts , but we still must show them how to correct their errors.
Proponents for progressive methods of education began to push the idea of teaching spelling wholly in connection with the individual curriculum units, as far back as the early 1980s. This meant that words used in other lessons would make up the spelling list. The words were then taught merely by memorizing the spellings. The traditional method of teaching spelling as a separate subject fell by the wayside. Many public school systems did away with teaching the concepts of phonics almost entirely. While the phonetic sounds of individual letters and letter combinations were still being taught to kindergartners and some first graders, there was no progressive building upon each new set of skills, since choosing sight words from among all those contained in any given story didn't supply the necessary components.
My oldest daughter was in a serious car accident when she was four years old. As a result she spent better than three weeks in the hospital. To ease the boredom and distract her from pain, I bought her a magnetic drawing board that could be used to write words or draw pictures. We spent several hours a day writing words like hat, cat, sat, etc. By the time she left the hospital, she was able to recognize most small words. She was also able to read mommy, daddy, grandma and grandpa, as well as all the names of family members. We continued these efforts at home. By the time she reached first grade, she was able to read rudimentary children's books.
Imagine my shock and surprise when I discovered she was not progressing in her reading and writing efforts. In fact, it seemed that she had regressed and no longer knew the correct spellings for words she had known well. I requested a copy of the lesson being taught at that particular time, and quickly came to understand that my daughter was being “untaught” all that she had previously achieved.
The sight words she was required to memorize came from a story titled, “The Country Mouse.” Country and mouse were two of the sight words. Without proper phonetics instruction regarding the different sounds the “ou” letter combination can make, my daughter became confused. In addition, “invented spelling” was being used. The allowance of misspelled words only served to confuse her further, as she was unable to determine the correct from incorrect without the needed input from her teacher.
When I addressed my concerns with the school officials, I was told that they had adopted the belief that ignoring incorrect spelling and grammar served to encourage creativity in the very young student. The idea was that being free from worrying about proper spelling and/or grammatical placement, allowed the student to focus on the act of creating. This idea defies logic because rather than encouraging creativity, it stymies it.
Every time a student comes to a word he is unable to spell, he'll either choose a different word that he can spell, or be forced to ask for help. The constant stopping and starting only serves to hinder the flow of creative ideas, often causing frustration as well as lengthening the time required to complete a writing project. Research has shown that poor spellers tend to choose different words because of the ease of spelling, even though another, more difficult word is the better choice. The end result is an ineffective use of words as well as an inability to organize the composition in a logical order.
Charles J. Sykes, author of Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why America's Children Feel Good About Themselves but Can't Read, Write, or Add, states, “Educationists noticed that many children misspelled words and realized that it would take a great deal of time, effort, and commitment to fix the problem. Instead, they discovered 'invented spelling'. Children weren't getting the words wrong, they were acting as 'independent spellers,' and any attempt to correct them would not only stifle their freedom, but smother their tender young creativity aborning. Such ideas have been widely seized upon by educationists who see the natural, unconscious, and effortless approach to spelling as not only progressive and child-centered, but a lot less work as well.”
Fast forward to 1992. My son entered kindergarten without the advantage of having me teach him anything in advance. I had learned my lesson with my daughter. I didn't want my son to be confused between what I taught him and what the school was teaching. I chose to give the professionals the benefit of the doubt, but remained on alert should their methods prove to be as damaging as I suspected.
I was very alarmed by his lack of progress in spelling and reading, just as I had been with my daughter's progress eight years before. I addressed the issue and was assured he was moving along as expected. All through kindergarten until the end of third grade, my son was permitted to misspell even the most basic of words. “The” was spelled t-h, without the “e”. “And” was spelled missing the “a”. “Them” was spelled as t-h-m. “They” was permitted to be spelled “tha”.
My son had the common speech impediments often found in the very young. He had a tendency to pronounce his v's as b's, therefore instead of saying “I love you very, very much” it came off as “I love you berry, berry much.” That may be cute to hear coming from a five year old. It loses its charm when a 14 year old is still speaking like a 5 year old. Because he was encouraged to invent his own spellings based on how he understood the words to sound, he never learned that his speech was wrong. And while I did my part in attempting to correct his errors in pronunciation, it was an uphill battle.
The public education system reverts to expressing the need for building self-esteem in the students whenever a parent expresses concern about a perceived lack of progress. It is the catch-all reasoning whenever they are faced with the fact that their methods don't seem to be working out as planned. They have placed the importance of making kids feel good, no matter how poorly they are performing, over the importance of actually achieving the goal of being educated. The end result is that these children either end up feeling totally worthless because they understand deep within that they haven't really learned anything, or they come to believe that actually learning isn't as important as going through the motions.
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After several years of using the invented spelling approach to written communications, my son's school district decided to bring back a curriculum that included teaching formal spelling. However, the invented spelling was still being used in the lower grades. The formal spelling curriculum was used with those students in the 5th and 6th grades. My son was in 6th grade at that time. Suddenly, it seemed that overnight, a major transformation was expected to be performed. My son was now supposed to forget all the bad spelling habits that had been reinforced by the failure to correct them over the previous 6 years.
The end result was an absolutely devastated sense of self-esteem. He stopped wanting to go to school. His behavior got out of hand. He found every excuse in the world not to do his homework. He began to refer to himself as stupid and unable to do the work. I discovered there seemed to be a discrepancy between how he performed at home in my presence when compared to his performance in the school setting. His teachers insisted he was learning disabled. I knew better. Out of desperation, I had him tested.
The teachers and administrators concerned all met for a meeting to discuss the psychologist's findings. I had no doubt that the findings would be in favor of my son NOT being learning disabled. The psychologist proceeded to explain that my son didn't have a learning disability, per se. The real disability was actually the lack of teaching ability to teach him in the way he needed to be taught. My son scored extremely high on IQ tests, but more importantly, his thinking processes were very, very advanced for a child of his age.
The psychologist explained that his thinking was so abstract that the average elementary school teacher wasn't equipped to teach him. Their own educational training wasn't geared to deal with it. If he was going to stay in public school, as was his right, then they would need to adopt different methods for teaching him.
Those teachers involved didn't seem to want to change their methods. I started noticing what appeared to be a concerted effort to find fault and place blame rather than looking for ways to fix the problem. My son was still experiencing troubles with spelling. I came to the conclusion that if he was ever going to correct the simple mistakes associated with “the” and “they”, it would only come with time. The habit would only be broken through repeated correction at every instance.
His 6th grade teacher had another idea in mind. She decided he didn't deserve to learn any other spelling words until he could break his bad habit, completely ignoring the fact that it was the methods of teaching that had caused those bad habits to be formed in the first place. There were six different spelling lists being used in the classroom each week. They ranged from a list of three letter words to a list containing words like “information,” “connotation,” and “destination.”
My son was assigned the same three word list, week after week with no success. While he might actually spell them correctly in a verbal test, he constantly reverted back to the incorrect spellings when writing them in sentences. The teacher refused to allow him to progress, and he began to experience cruelty from his peers who called him stupid and made fun of his failures.
Still wanting to believe the best about his teacher, I decided she was only trying to protect him from possibly failing at learning the more difficult words, which might harm his fragile self-esteem even more. Thinking I was doing the right thing, I had my son take the most difficult spelling list to his room and study it for 15 minutes. I then tested him verbally for the spellings. He was able to spell all 25 words perfectly after only studying them for 15 minutes. I checked him again a couple of hours later, and yet again the following morning before school.
I instructed him to go to his teacher and recite the words followed by the spelling of them. He was so excited to go to school that day. It was the first time in a very long time that he had showed any enthusiasm for it. He also came home more depressed than I had ever seen him. He informed me that he had done exactly as I had told him to do. His teacher had allowed him to recite the entire 25 word list, which he had done perfectly. Then she informed him that it didn't matter. He was not going to be moved forward until he mastered the other list to her liking. She said he didn't deserve to learn the other words until then. Yes, you read that correctly. He was expected to earn the right to his public education, the education that is guaranteed by the US constitution.
I eventually pulled my son out of school and home schooled him. To my horror, I realized what had been being hidden from me by both the school's failure to use any real measurements of progress and by my son who was ashamed of the fact. Armed with nothing but my determination, and of course, my son's intelligence, I managed to bring his reading level from a second grade level to a 9th grade level in less than 3 months. Every other subject improved, as well. By the end of that initial three month period, he was doing scholastic work two grades above his age group. He has developed a love for reading that has him consuming an average of three books a week. His speech became more articulate and his ability to express himself on paper is outstanding.
When I think back to those years, I am reminded of how many children are currently suffering the failures of the public education system. Our children are no longer being taught, but rather encouraged to enjoy their ignorance and feel good about it. It would be easy to blame the teachers, except they are simply products of their own poor educations. No, we must look to the standards being put into place by a select few.
These few choose to adopt certain methods as being the newest and most progressive methods of teaching and then proceed to indoctrinate would be teachers who are attending college in the interest of gaining teaching credentials. It is a systematic dumbing down of our entire society. Skeptics might read this in disbelief, outraged that anyone could believe the poor results of new methods have been planned, wondering what good would be creating an uneducated society.
Individuals who are creative, free thinkers, have the ability to think for themselves. They know how to explore ideas and research possibilities, always testing the boundaries of knowledge in the pursuit of perhaps more knowledge and understanding. Such individuals are also independent, finding no need to rely on the opinions and beliefs of others in order to form their own beliefs. Independent individuals will rely on their own experiences as the basis for forming their personal belief systems.
Take away creativity. Remove the ability to think logically. Restrict the flow of information by hindering the ability to communicate effectively with one's peers. All that is left is a mass of individuals who will now rely on others to think for them. They are more likely to willingly accept any information provided to them without question, assuming it's truthful fact. They are now more easily controlled.
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