By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion
Just as I was trying to remain somewhat hopeful about the state of education in our parish, the great spelling kerfuffle of 2018 erupted. So much for cautious optimism. From what I’ve been able to gather, a teacher was caught red handed in one of our elementary schools teaching spelling – as a separate subject. Things got a tad complicated from there. In the halcyon world of modern curriculum design, teaching children how to spell is best done in context, with errors corrected as they arise rather than teaching spelling in isolation. Evidently, the old ways lead to no end of problems and these lists of spelling words, further compounded by homework and weekly tests, were an impediment dooming the children to a year of drudgery. One can’t have that.
The teacher, an honorable title I have always preferred to the pretentious “educator”, sent a note home to the children’s families that stated that, as spelling was no longer to be taught in the Natchitoches Parish Schools, she would no longer be giving spelling homework or spelling tests each week. After the social media explosion, accusations back and forth, and yet another addition to the growing list of dubious robo calls, one might be tempted to dismiss the whole sad sequence of events as a tempest in a tea pot. Such is not the case.
That is how I thought of the whole affair, as a tempest in a teapot, until I clicked on the link for the Louisiana Department of Education’s K-12 Student Standards for English Language Arts. The following paragraph is on the second page.
“Students in Louisiana are ready for college or a career if they can read, understand, and express their understanding of complex, grade-level texts. This means students should be able to pick up any text, such as a picture book, newspaper article, or painting, understand what the text means, and be able to speak or write about the ideas they learned or challenge from the text and why.”
I’ll leave aside, for the moment, how one is supposed to understand the text on a painting. A student is ready for, not second grade, but college or a career if they can understand a PICTURE BOOK? That is the lofty standard these “educators” hold out to for our state’s children?
The whole controversy presents a false choice. I was in third grade in 1972 in St. Ambrose School in Endicott, NY. Most of the school’s students were no more than a generation removed from the working class immigrants that staffed the factories of our parents’ and grandparents’ time. It was not a wealthy school. We had spelling words. We had homework. We had spelling tests. Spelling, as well as grammar, was an integral (for some odd reason, I remember that word from a spelling word list) part of the curriculum. Teaching spelling need not, nor should it be, an either/or choice.
Our parish’s schoolteachers (another honorable title, quite refreshingly absent from the dreck that is the K-12 Student Standards for English Language Arts) should be treated like professionals. I’m still flabbergasted that I am writing an editorial defending the assignment of spelling words to third graders. Years from now, a former student will be on the jobsite or in a college classroom and will thank that teacher who laid a foundation for success.