Teaching a large first-year course at a British university, I am fed
up with correcting my students’ atrocious spelling. Aren’t we all!?
why must we suffer? Instead of complaining about the state of the
education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I’ve
got a better idea. University teachers should simply accept as variant
spelling those words our students most commonly misspell. — Ken Smith, Times Higher Education Supplement
I sympathize with Ken Smith’s frustration, but not the solution he proposes.
There’s a good case to be made for being flexible with language.
Text-message abbreviations and chat-room shortcuts are not simply
degraded forms of idealized English. They are a set of conventions that
serve a purpose, such as improving the efficiency of two-thumb typists,
or letting members of a group focus on the free flow of ideas (or
gossip, or vitriol, or whatever) rather than on the more rigid and
time-consuming conventions of standard prose.
educators have little to gain by belittling or ignoring the
accomplishments of youngsters who are skilled in these kinds of
communication, just as today’s college students have much to lose if
they don’t take advantage of their time at university to develop the
intellectual habits that are necessary for the reading and writing of
complex, well-organized, authoritative texts.
Ken, I’d suggest that you let students know that certain
assignments, such as in-class essays or overnight reflection papers,
will be evaluated only on creativity, or the student’s ability to apply
a key concept or to spot the methodological error in a case study.
But for an assignment in which the student has access to a
spell-checker, or where the point of the assignment is to model
professional behavior (writing reports that could be used to determine
a defendant’s guilt or innocence, for example), to encourage this kind
of compositional sloppiness would be a crime.