Sitting at a light in heavy traffic the other day, my eyes suddenly became aware of the writing on the double doors of the work van in front of me. I can't recall specifically what the words were, but they spelled out the company's name. As I read it, I suddenly exclaimed to my wife, "No wonder kids can't spell today! Just look at how they spelled that company's name!"
Examples of this phenomenon abound all around us. This is no reflection on the utility or value of the products or services of such companies. It's no reflection on the creative ingenuity of the firms' marketing gurus. But it is a reflection of why otherwise educated kids grow into adults who can't spell or write correctly. With so many bad examples surrounding them, the wonder is that they can spell and write as well as they do!
Let's consider a few examples.
Nutone, Reddi Whip, Wite-Out, Sno-Cone, Krispy Kreme, Froot Loops, Cheez Stiks, Playskool, Blu-Ray, Snap-Tite, Speedi-Products, Dreem Sleep, SafetyKleen. I've tried to be brief, but the list just keeps growing!
My favorite sad-but-true example comes from a TV advertisement that ran repeatedly during baseball season several years ago. The fact that kids were watching and learning bad spelling from it became clear in a school classroom when the teacher asked a student, "Johnny, how do you spell relief?" And the student dutifully replied, "R-O-L-A-I-D-S!"
But popular advertising and marketing gimmicks are just one reason kids can't spell or write correctly today. Another reason is our over-reliance on auto-correcting features and spelling and grammar checkers on our electronic devices. Our cell phone texting features and word processing software automatically think for us or second guess our meanings, supplying what they "think" we really mean when we text or type.
Some of the things that go out to our messages' recipients can be funny and harmless. Others can be embarrassing. But some could prove harmful or otherwise detrimental, causing gross misunderstandings.
And don't even get me started on handwriting! I'll admit that my own handwriting, especially when I'm in a hurry, can be atrocious. But have you noticed the handwriting of the general, run-of-the-mill member of the public today? And we accuse doctors of having bad handwriting? We owe them an apology!
I think back to my mother's handwriting. Neat. Legible. Even artistic. Even when she was scribbling her grocery list in a hurry, her handwriting was still clearly legible. Certainly better than mine when I took my time. And that seems to have been a characteristic of her entire generation, at least for the women but also for many of the men. And the key is that they were TAUGHT to practice good handwriting! It didn't just happen. Typically, it was either the Palmer or the Zaner-Bloser technique they learned. And it stayed with them. Distinctive, artistic, and legible to the very end!
Several months ago, the museum where I serve as a docent opened a new display of accounting books from a large corporation that had once operated in the community before, during, and shortly after World War II. The thing that immediately struck me about the display was the neat, legible handwriting in the account ledgers. It looks just like my mother's!
But kids aren't taught to value handwriting today. No separate, intentional instruction in the skill. No special writing workbooks over which the young scholars labor. No notetaking by hand for history, science, or English class. If notes are taken at all, it's done on the computer.
When I returned to college to take some post-grad classes after having been out for several decades, I was appalled at what I discovered as I looked around me. Not only was I the oldest person in the classes but also I was the only one taking notes in longhand!
And in the hustle-bustle of the modern world, kids-grown-into-adults get no instruction in or practical application of what used to be simple courtesy skills. Writing of thank-you notes. Writing of letters.
A rule of education is that you will get from students what you reward. If you reward a particular behavior, it gets repeated. If you pay attention to the guy who's goofing off just to get attention, he'll keep doing it. If you honor and reward good spelling and handwriting, students will soon pick up on that and begin to spell and write well.
But today, we often reward the wrong things, things that don't really matter all that much in the long run. We are really big on honoring athletes with letters and letter jackets, huge trophies, hefty scholarships. What do we give the good speller? A measly paper certificate.
When was the last time you wrote a thank-you note or letter? By hand? How is your own spelling? We must set the example. People will know we've taken the time and made the effort to express our thoughts. At least they'll be able to read them! Moreover, something handwritten is something that might actually be cherished and saved. That text message or e-mail will soon be deleted and forgotten.