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…
This 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.
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.
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.