COMMENTARY | As a high school teacher I know how hard it is to get kids to write. Most days I begin class with a “freewrite” exercise where teenagers get to explain their positions or opinions on a broad economic topic. There are no right or wrong answers and scores are based on effort. Moaning, groaning, and griping often result from students being expected to complete at least three sentences about wide open topics like raising or lowering taxes, what students plan to accomplish during their future careers, or whether or not the government should provide more college tuition subsidies. Include proper spelling and grammar? Fuhgeddahboudit.
Professor Sugata Mitra of Newcastle University, the esteemed recipient of the 2013 TED Prize, hurts rank-and-file teachers by saying that spelling and grammar are obsolete in our era of digital autocorrect. According to the Daily Mail, Mitra asserts that electronic tools like autocorrect make it unnecessary to teach spelling and grammar today, relegating the skills “were very essential maybe 100 years ago but they are not right now.” Unfortunately, Mitra ignores the importance of learning spelling and grammar to the establishment of strong mental foundations.
Learning spelling and grammar is not exciting. It is tough work, rote and tedious, much like weightlifting. However, like weightlifting, it develops strength that runs deep. Only after students learn proper spelling and grammar can they move on to more complex skills like appreciating and utilizing tempo, flow, rhyme scheme, alliteration, voice, and countless other tools of the trade. Poetry and prose are lost to mechanized sanitations of txt spk. Having ceded their development of literary skills to silicon, a generation of students never develops greatness.
Unable to write well, these students never develop a potent voice. They are unable to be their own advocates in all venues that appreciate the written word: Law, politics, education, the arts. Even the progress of the technical fields will be blunted by those whose minds were dulled by being unable to appreciate literature. Never having developed the necessary foundations early on, an entire generation of students does not learn how to ably innovate and improvise.
To successfully innovate and improvise you must first know the rules you intend to bend or break. I quote the Dalai Lama XIV: “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
Allowing computers to be the knowers of our rules, serving as our mindless correctors and sanitizers, is a bad fate.