This topic was brought to mind by a fellow sufferer in my exercise class, Jean Shellenberger, who brought me a clipping from the Sherman newspaper dated Aug. 1997. It was a story about her winning the Grayson County Senior Spelling Bee (two years in a row), plus a photo of her (with me in the background).
No, I wasn’t the runner-up in the senior spelling bee. Instead, as the master of ceremonies, I was dressed in the Dr. Gideon costume that I wear when role-playing my 19th century ancestor who was a botanical physician. For several years during the 1990s, there was an annual spelling contest locally, with the top three winners advancing to compete at the state level.
The vocabulary and spelling ability of those seniors was a credit to their schooling as well as their intelligence. Most of us had at least one teacher whose unswerving dedication to helping her students will not be forgotten. For me it was Mrs. Maurie Seale in the Marquez School.
For one of my elderwriters, it was a dear lady in Sherman, who on a chilly day in the 1930s drove her Model A, with two pupils wrapped in quilts, all the way to Paris (TX) for an Interscholastic League competition which included spelling. Alas for them, you had to write down the spelling words as read aloud, and somehow they failed to hear one early on. As a result, their entry was disqualified before the spelled words were even looked at. Nevertheless, it was a rich learning experience (which made a great reminiscence story).
I know only too well that for more than a decade America’s public schools have suffered under the pressures and restrictions imposed by “No Child Left Behind.” Since the testing requirements were imposed beginning in third grade, the students arriving in our colleges now have been subject to the full extent of the law’s requirements.
The effects on students learning and skills have been negative in the extreme. With test scores serving as the primary (if not the only) measure of student performance, anything NOT being tested was given short shrift.
For ease in scoring, most of the tests have consisted of multiple-choice items. Thus, students lack experience in doing the kinds of writing expected at higher levels of education.
Even in Advanced Placement classes, the teachers know that their pupils will be evaluated on the basis of subject matter or content. The scoring is based on seeing whether the student uses some key terms and concepts. It doesn’t even matter whether they spell the key words correctly.
I am not casting stones at teachers for how poorly prepared current high school graduates are. Teachers have very little say in what is happening to public education.
Our young people are intelligent. However, they have not learned the thinking and communication skills (including spelling) that colleges and employers rightly expect.
A retired English professor, Dr. Jerry Lincecum teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories. He welcomes your reminiscences on any topic: email@example.com