Thursday, June 2, 2011

Spell F-r-e-e-d-o-m

This morning is the semi-final round, and tonight is the final round of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee. You might have seen the photos from the preliminary rounds: faces showing elation, anxiety, despair. (Of course, such things make better copy for the media.)

Of the 50 semifinalists, 13-year-old Veronica Penny is a homeschooler from Ontario, Canada. Grace Remmer from Florida, age 12, is also home schooled. So are 13-year-old Gina Solomito from Indiana and 13-year-old Samuel Estep from Virginia.

They're spelling words like "febrifugal," "tchotchke," and "profligacy." Everyone can see how smart and dedicated these kids are, but not everyone thinks of advanced spelling as a valuable skill.

A blogger called "Geek Mom" has written an excellent post answering the question, "What is the value of the national spelling bee in the age of spell check and predictive text?" The whole piece is well-worth reading, but in particular, Geek Mom gives a great illustration of what it means to improve your vision through spelling mastery.
I was once given the word S-I-L-I-C-I-F-E-R-O-U-S in a spelling bee. I’d never heard the word before. I asked for the definition. Containing silicon. I asked for the etymology. Latin. I asked for the part of speech. Adjective. With this information, I was able to construct the word in its entirety. I knew about silicon, and thus had the S-I-L-I-C-I beginning. The Latin root told me that the middle part of the word would be F-E-R rather than P-H-O-R and the fact that it was an adjective, not a noun, told me that the word ended in O-U-S rather than U-S. Siliciferous. One word can encapsulate an entire education.
Last week, we focused on words and sentences. Isn't it amazing how much there is to see within individual words?

As learners, we start our examination of language with our naked eyes. We learn to speak and read simple words. Then we pull out a magnifying glass. We study basic grammar. We memorize common spelling words. Finally, we use a powerful microscope. We learn about word origins and study foreign languages. We compare the nuances of synonyms and contrast active and passive verbs. We use all of these tools to become good readers, writers, and speakers.

We don't forget about the big picture, but we learn how to appreciate and understand it more fully by celebrating the details.

It's the details like these help us become whole (inviolate, replete), free (untrammeled, emancipated) people.

For more information about teaching spelling classically, read chapter 4 in The Core. Another great resource is Spelling Plus, by Susan C. Anthony.