Date: Sat, 13 Jan 1996 10:53:04 -0700
From: Rudy Troike RTROIKE[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Subject: Re: The reason kids miswrite ITS'
Good point. It is unfortunate that linguists' message that spelling
does not equate with intelligence has not penetrated the public understanding
more fully. Visual memory for orthography is one kind of intelligence, which
might have no relation to other types, e.g., as a brilliant mathematician
may have variant spellings, and a perfect speller may fail the simplest test
in a linguistics or history course. But the stereotype is fixed in our
folk-beliefs, and continues to be perpetuated by the educational system.
However, there is another curriculum-internal aspect to it. Back in
the 1960s, when Al Marckwardt and Harold Allen and Raven McDavid and others
were highly active in NCTE, the journals and conventions were full of articles
and papers by linguists, and NCTE was a major source of influence on the
English-teaching profession. In more recent years, linguists have become
highly marginal in NCTE, and linguistically-misinformed articles that would
have been quickly rejected in the past now routinely appear in the journals.
Thanks to NCTE and NDEA, and the work of Shuy and others at the Center for
Applied Linguistics, English textbooks were becoming sophisticated linguistic-
ally, and abreast of the current research. Some of the present texts, by
contrast, have been resurrected from the 1930s, and this is the sort of
material that is being taught to millions of schoolchildren today. It is
comparable to finding that current school texts in science were teaching
that the atom could not be split and that humans had never been to the moon.
Thus there is a real crisis in the growing linguistic ignorance of the
supposedly educated public. I am not sure what can be done about it -- becoming
more active in professional teacher organizations is one way, but the
situation, after so many decades of effort, is discouraging. Those of us who
teach teacher-education courses (which is probably most of us) or introductory
linguistics courses keep trying, but the results seem to disappear into the
sand instead of becoming cumulative, as one might hope.
A note re Ron's point on our inclusive educational system: Of course
German spelling is more consistent than that of English, but regional
varieties are far more radically divergent from the "standard" Hochsprache,
so one might expect that command of standard written German might be a
significant educational issue. I once asked a German sociolinguist about this,
and he responded that it was not, that everyone wrote with no problem. But
when I pursued the question further to ask about the children of farmers and
shopworkers, he thought a bit and said, "Well, of course, none of them ever
go to college."
--Rudy Troike (rtroike[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]ccit.arizona.edu)