Does speling still matter?

Did my misspelling of the word spelling grab your attention? Good. I’m glad, because It’s an important issue that Peppercommers Kristin Davie and Sarah Sanzari are tackling in today’s guest blog. Ladies: take it away…

P3371-If-Guns-Cause-Crimes-Pencils-misspell-words-patch__62715This week, there has been heated discussion online and off involving Alex Trebek, the Emancipation Proclamation, and a twelve-year-old boy. The debate concerns a controversial “Jeopardy!” decision during the July 31st Kids Week tournament in which contestant Thomas Hurley III misspelled “emancipation” within his answer in the final round of the game show. The judges ruled against him, and he lost the competition. Adding fuel to the fire, the young student said he felt “cheated” in an interview in a local newspaper following the show.

Kristin’s View  
Was it the right call?
Yes, absolutely. I know human error exists. In fact, I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I rely on an extra pair of eyes when writing client correspondence, drafting important documents, or even after wrapping up this post. However, when considering the context of the situation, the judges made the correct decision. Another contestant also wrote down the right answer, and he spelled it correctly. Plain and simple, he won the round. I can understand the personal frustration, disappointment, or embarrassment that Thomas must feel, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that he misspelled the word- a word that Paige Kimble, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, called a “great” spelling bee word for a fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-grader.

Whose fault is it?
In the same USA Today article that featured Kimble, J. Richard Gentry, an expert in reading and spelling education, suggested that spelling is no longer a priority in the classroom. I find this disheartening- do students today no longer take spelling quizzes in English class? I vividly remember my fourth grade spelling bee, and the word that ultimately tripped me up and landed me in second place. Personal defeat aside, I would never place the blame fully on my English teacher’s shoulders. The responsibility is with the student to study. No matter your career, spelling will always be necessary. After all, you certainly wouldn’t want a doctor to misspell a prescription or a tattoo artist to make a permanent mistake- and I doubt you would point the first finger at their teacher if they did.

Sarah’s view
Was it the right call?
It was an innocent mistake; the viewer clearly knew what he was trying to write and he was probably nervous being in front of a live audience, feeling the pressure to perform.
In the grand scheme of things, an extra “t” isn’t so bad. But, Alex Trebek not only deemed the response incorrect, he went as far as to embarrass Thomas, who probably felt bad enough, by stating that opponent Skyler Hornback’s winning answer was “spelled correctly also.”

Whose fault is it?
I know people will disagree with my opinion. They will blame technology for making us lazy, or Thomas for not spending enough time on his spelling homework. But, before we pin all of the blame on a child, I think we need to look at our education system and teachers.

Throughout elementary school students are told to sound words out, break them out into syllables. This style of teaching goes on for a few years and one day the student is just expected to master the art of spelling. It doesn’t always work like that; the English language can be tricky.

In an interview with education magazine TES, professor and academic researcher Sugata Mitra suggested that he no longer thinks it’s entirely necessary for kids to learn spelling and grammar, in part due to technologies like texting and autocorrect. Mitra went on to say, “This emphasis on grammar and spelling, I find it a bit unnecessary because they are skills that were very essential maybe a hundred years ago but they are not right now.”

We cannot leave spelling and grammar lessons to be taught by mobile phones. I don’t really agree with this approach. If a teacher notices that a student is struggling with spelling, it is their responsibility to spend one-on-one time working with the student or giving them extra assignments to help improve their skills.

While Kristin and I might not agree on how the situation was handled, we can agree on the fact that the proliferation of technology has allowed spelling and grammar to take a backseat. Abbreviations have become part of our everyday language, “brb,”  “lol,” “idk.” Autocorrect has crippled our ability to retain spelling knowledge. From classrooms to conference rooms this is a very real problem, and this little game has brought this issue to light-thanks to technology, spelling is in Jeopardy indeed.

11 thoughts on “Does speling still matter?

  1. Pingback: .BIZ Summer Friday, Aug 9, 2013 (Highlights: Building Personal Brands; 'Pinteresting' Marketing; Don Graham's Next Act; NY Times Isn't Selling - 6 Newspapers that Should) -

  2. Thank you to all for reading and responding. I think there are a lot of factors to consider as to why this is a new story, who should take “responsibility” for the mistake, etc. As I mentioned in my original post, I am not lumping all of the blame on teachers, just merely suggesting that we need to take a closer look at our education system.

    Hopefully, Thomas, and future “Jeopardy!” contestants, have learned a lesson from this incident and will spend more time working on spelling, grammar and pronunciation before appearing on live t.v.

  3. I appreciate everyone’s comments! It’s unfortunate that Thomas and his family feel so “cheated” that they’re planning to sue the producers. Again, I think it traces back to the context of the situation. In a game with a clear incorrect and correct answer, spelling can make all the difference. I’ve noticed Alex will ask contestants to clarify from time to time if he can’t read their handwriting (which is another issue altogether), but the judges were fair in disqualifying the misspelled answer. Do I disqualify every candidate that applies for an internship with a mistake in a cover letter? No, not necessarily, although it does influence my decision. Again, mistakes happen, but the context of the situation is different. At the end of the day, Thomas just looks like a sore loser.

  4. It became an issue, Bubbles, because we Americans live in an insulated society that’s obsessed with political correctness. This would be a non-story in any country but ours.

  5. My POV was based on the fact that he couldn’t win regardless. I agree spelling matters but in this case, when Jeopardy feels they made a mistake, they invite that person back. I too believe that everyone must win something is a crock of crap or everyone should make the team. Parents are too quick to jump in nowadays and the result of that now is that kids are horrors for the most part. My thought in responding about this particular spelling is that other contestants have misspelled final jeopardy answers as it relates to geography and whatnot, and they were not penalized (I don’t think). I’m done with the topic too but it is a good post.

  6. I agree with Laura. Actually, I want to know why this became an issue at all. Rules are rules.

  7. Great post, ladies.

    In the grand scheme of things, spelling the answer correctly DOES matter, since those are the rules of the game. They have ruled against people who have slightly mispronounced words as well. The kid got it wrong, end of story.

    Sarah, in terms of blaming the education system, I’d say you’re only partially there. There is definitely room for improvement in the education system, but I know plenty of people who are superb spellers (which includes young people). There are many factors that influence how a child learns. Technology/auto-correct is certainly one. Teachers are clearly one. But you’re forgetting one big factor as well–the parent. Playing the blame game is just a cop-out.

    I will say I think this issue has been blown way out of proportion. The kid spelled something wrong. Even if you’re a strong speller, you’re bound to make a mistake every so often, especially when you’re a child. Perhaps this was his day. Or perhaps, he is an atrocious speller and this is a good lesson for him to buckle down and study more.

    Either way, he spelled the answer wrong and deserved to lose. Case closed or we end up perpetuating the new mentality of “everyone should get a trophy”. No they shouldn’t.

  8. If the question was a regular one and not final jeopardy, it would not have mattered because Thomas would have said Emancipation Proclamation. When the category makes you spell the word, that is different. I think they should have given him the credit for the correct response.

    • I disagree with you, Donna. You are correct that has it been a regular question, he would have just said the word and been fine. But it was Final Jeopardy, which means it should be a bit harder and restrictive.

  9. Greg, the issue is not whether the outcome would have been different. The problem is re-visiting a ruling that was made. All this is teaching children is to whine if you don’t get your way. I think the whole thing is disgusting.

  10. Regardless if Thomas correctly spelled emancipation, his position would not have improved since he was so far behind. But, for finishing as the runner-up, he was still awarded $2,000. Yet, the last I heard/read is that the family wants to sue the game show.