The Dumbing of America

Like many writers, I have a day job. The schools had closed for a holiday and the boss brought her daughter and friend to work, rather than leaving them unattended at home. These two girls were fourteenish, and I was put in charge of helping them print their homework out on the computer.

The friend sat across from me and spent a couple hours working diligently on her homework assignment. When she was finished with her homework, I printed it out for her.

I noticed immediately that there was a spelling error, so like a teacher correcting a test paper, I circled the word in red. I did not tell her the correct spelling, only that the word was in error.

There turned out to be a number of errors, and every time she’d fix an error, she’d add a new one. When the other girl came in to check on her, she told the girl that the spellchecker on the computer had missed a word.

Say WHAT?! Surely you are kidding me! This felt wrong on so many levels. First of all, spellcheckers do not miss words that are spelled wrong unless the boo-boo is actually a real word. Secondly, nobody should rely solely on a spellchecker — everyone should read the final version with their own eyes to look for errors. And finally, I couldn’t help but wonder if kids were no longer expected to know how to spell a word.

One word that she’d misspelled was “belief.” She had spelled it “beleif.” A spellchecker would have caught that, so she must not have run the spellchecker. I asked her if she knew the rule for determining whether it should be “ie” or “ei” and she said no. That rule was so ingrained in us back in the day.

I before e, except after c, or when sounded as a, as in neighbor and weigh. That’s the rule I was taught in school. So in spelling the word “belief”, it would be “i” before “e” as it doesn’t come after a “c” and it doesn’t rhyme with “day.”

Another word that she’d misspelled was “character.” She’d spelled it “charter” three different times. The spellchecker would not have flagged it since “charter” is an actual word. The only way to catch such an error is to proofread it for yourself without relying on a computer program to do all the work.

This girl went through so many revisions that I was dumbfounded. I have no idea what they teach in school nowadays, but if she is any indication, the Board of Education should be forced to watch the movie Idiocracy which was written, directed and produced by Mike Judge. I could not help but wonder if I was witnessing the dumbing down of America as showcased in the movie. Apparently, a whole lot of folks agree with me, because the movie has a 4-star average rating with almost 1,000 reviews.

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