|I can't carry a tune. Does that make me a bad person? I can't spell either. I don't
dwell on these handicaps. When I am in a situation where I am expected to sing, I sing
very softly. Sometimes I want to sing more forcefully but when I see people near me wince,
I cut back to a murmur. When I started writing this column twenty odd years ago, Barbara
was my spell check. You might wonder why I didn't just look up the words that I had
trouble with. Sometimes I can't get close enough to the correct spelling to find them in
the dictionary. Other times I don't know whether or not a word is spelled incorrectly.
Now I write on a computer and the computer does a pretty good job of correcting my spelling. It can't pick up things like loose and lose, though. I can't tell you which is which right now.
There are words I spell incorrectly every time. I recognize them and know they are problem words. I will stop and try to figure out which is correct and get them wrong at least half of the time. In school I would alternate spelling of words like this to minimize the errors. If I spelled maintanence and maintenance in a school essay where the word appeared twice, I would only get marked off for one misspelling which, for me, was better odds than sticking with one of the spellings. I had no chance of getting a perfect grade but I at least had a better chance of passing.
I have come to believe that my spelling is a handicap. I don't think I am stupid because I can't spell...any more. I have, after many years, decided that an inability to spell is just a part of me. I have to deal with it the best I can.
When the public school system was supposed to be teaching me to spell, they failed. The teachers thought I was stupid or lazy. They would tell my parents, "I know he can do the work. He just isn't trying."
Spelling was taught by the memorize and test method. Each week we had a list of spelling words to memorize. There was a test on Friday morning. By recess time the teacher had graded our papers. Anyone getting more than four wrong had to stay in at recess time and write each word misspelled twenty-five times. I missed a lot of recesses until I figured out how to beat the system. I wrote all the words on the list twenty-five times before the test. Now, you are probably thinking that was a good idea and that I probably passed the test. Wrong! I still had too many errors but I could get my recess because I had already paid the penalty. I just turned in the paper with the whole list copied twenty-five times.
You would think that the teachers would question their methods when they saw a kid struggling that way. It didn't happen. Being able to go out and play on Fridays made me feel a lot better. At least the other kids didn't know that I had failed again.
When misspellings crop up in something that I have written, people usually pass it off as a typo or they think that I am so rushed or busy that I just didn't see the error. I think that is because I am a writer and my thoughts and the way I express myself leads people to believe that I am not dumb. If I were a farmer and people saw a misspelling on something I wrote, they would likely think of me as a dumb farmer. There is no such thing as a dumb farmer. There may be some dumb people who are farming for a brief time because they can't think of a better way to spend an inheritance but farming is an occupation that takes a lot of skill and common sense. A farmer who is making ends meet is no dummy.
We categorize people as being stupid when they don't come up to our standards in a particular area of knowledge or understanding? I would like to revolutionize our society. I would like to have us recognize the strengths that each of us has. I would like to see us build upon strengths. I suspect that our weaknesses would be strengthened better and with greater ease if we all focused on each other's strengths.
In school those who excel in athletics are called "jocks". The word "dumb" fits nicely in front of that word, it seems. At the other end of the spectrum we have the "nerds" who, by definition, are physically weak, socially inept and do not have good eye-body coordination. Ah, to be in that anonymous middle - neither jock nor nerd. To not stand out.
I think there is another way.
Last week I said I thought we should revolutionize society. We categorize people as being stupid when they don't come up to our standards in a particular area of knowledge or understanding? I would like to have us recognize the strengths that each of us has. I would like to see us build upon strengths. I suspect that our weaknesses would be strengthened better and with greater ease if we all focused on each other's strengths.
Why do we force a kid who passionately wants to make music try to climb a rope in the gym with the whole class watching? Do we want to humiliate him or her? No, we don't want to humiliate anyone but we do want our children to be physically fit. I believe there is a way to have all the kids in the class climb the rope without anyone being humiliated. It will take a shift in the way we think about our own and each other's aptitudes.
Each of us has unique fingerprints. We also have unique voice prints and, perhaps most fascinating, we each have unique DNA. Is it too difficult to believe that each of us is totally unique? Is it difficult to believe that each of us has different mental and physical abilities? We don't say that one person's fingerprint is better or worse than anothers. Why do we say that one persons mental or physical abilities are better than anothers?
ŠJanuary 19, 1998
Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate. Mortmather@cybertours.com
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