Friday, May 13, 2016

Spelling Bee?: We Need A Reading Bee

I saw an article in the local newspaper about the Scripps National Spelling Bee and thought that it was still nice to hear this event goes on.  In an age where information circulates at a breathtaking pace, spelling has suffered.  Look at any email or social media post.  Even our presidential candidates carelessly tweet misspelled words.  Spelling has declined, but it is indicative of a larger issue in America.  Do you feel people use a high-level vocabulary?  Do you think the average person writes well?  Do you see the reading levels of students dramatically improving?

We are a nation of sophisticated social media users. We know our way around Netflix, Amazon, Apple and all the sites to buy junk, download things and share photos.  We live on Facebook, You Tube, Twitter and the blogsphere.  But can we think critically, engage in a clean debate, use words exceeding five letters – and spell them correctly?

I don’t want to go on a rant about how dumb America is but the statistical evidence and day-to-day firsthand experience of life shows that our nation has some troubling challenges. I don’t mean our deficit or immature politics, but I’m talking about how tens of millions of people in our advanced country are illiterate.  Tens of millions more hug the line between being functionally literate and not.  Only three in ten adults have a college degree.

How often do we hear someone say:  “I don’t have the patience to read a book” or “I’m too busy to read a book”?  How many towns no longer have a bookstore nearby?  When you look around in a park, on a train or bus, at Starbucks, or wherever, how many people do you see reading a book?

The spelling bee has value, as it sheds light on students’ abilities to spell.  Spelling is not just memorizing words but about understanding how words are put together and how the roots of words help to define them.

We need more contests like the spelling bee.  We should have a vocabulary bee – let kids tell us what words mean.  We should have a book bee -- let students publicly debate the ideas or writing styles of various books.  We should have a writing bee – let kids compete by writing essays, short stories or poems.

And let’s continue this as adults. Learning doesn’t end with a diploma or degree. It’s just the beginning. Learning is a lifelong process; it’s not something you complete and tuck into a drawer.  Learning is a living activity, one everybody should want to engage in.

I have never been a great speller, which forces me to look words up, and in the process learn more about them.  We can’t just say “Why do we need to learn how to spell if we have spell-check”?  That lazy attitude not only will expose you to embarrassment when it comes to spelling – it will put you in a frame of mind that comes to dismiss other vital areas of learning.

“Why do I need to know what words mean?  I just look them up online.”

“Why do I need to read a book when I can get the summary on a website?”

“Why do I need to call people when I can just update my status with Facebook posts?”

“Why do I need to know how to write well when I can just dictate into my smart phone?”

This kind of lazy, ignorant, and unproductive thought mode is getting the next generation into trouble. It’s a generation that is willfully unaware.  If they don’t know about it, then it doesn’t matter.  If they don’t know of something and can’t look it up, it won’t hurt them.  If they don’t know spelling, have a good vocabulary or have decent writing skills, they believe they can outsource it to the digital universe.

We need to show people how to transition into a hybrid world, one where old paper-type ways no longer dominate but where we can’t just give up and let the Internet dictate our lives.  We need to exploit the best of both worlds, to show how we can -- and should – use both to make us better than prior generations. Nothing here is mutually exclusive.  You can pursue obtaining a great vocabulary and be proficient in spelling while using advanced technology to discover new things and share them with others.

Here’s an analogy – it’s okay to defer to a robot on certain tasks but don’t give up your physical autonomy. Just because cars get you somewhere fast and easily don’t give up on walking too.  Just because machines can do certain errands, repairs, or clean things that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be physically active around the house.

Humans must learn to work with machines, technology, and mass media in a way that expands our abilities, knowledge, and health  Right now we just allow ourselves to get dumber, lazier, and less involved in our minds and body’s health. Keep stimulating yourself and look to improve your life by learning, reading, exercising and engaging in life. Otherwise, the next button you press for yourself will be “delete.”

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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