Tales from the Morgue: In praise of spelling bees

2014-01-16T18:00:00Z 2014-01-22T15:00:35Z Tales from the Morgue: In praise of spelling beesJohanna Eubank Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 16, 2014 6:00 pm  • 

Even back in 1914, people claimed that students left school — even university — deficient in spelling abilities. Shouldn't clerks and stenographers be able to spell?

One hundred years ago, a solution was suggested by a professor who also claimed it would not be practical in Tucson.

From the Arizona Daily Star, Saturday, Jan. 17, 1914:

SPELLING BEES ARE ADVOCATED BY EDUCATORS
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Not Feasible for Schools Here but Prof. Newsom Believes Young People Could Adopt the Idea With Profit
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Old-fashioned spelling matches are advocated by Tucson educators as a means for improving the spelling of school students and creating interest in a branch of study which is most important in practical life, but in which the scholars of today do not get the results which they do in other studies.

Complaint is general among business men that students who come from the high schools and the public schools, and even the colleges and universities, are woefully deficient in spelling and punctuation. The mistakes made by young stenographers or young clerks, while very amusing, at the same time are very annoying to the employer, who thinks that such things as spelling and punctuation should be already learned by the time the young student quits the school room.

Is the deficiency in correct spelling the fault of the schools? Educators do not think so. The view seems to be taken by teachers that spelling is a rather peculiar branch of study in that it requires special application and aptitude on the part of the scholar.

S. C. Newsom, superintendent of the Tucson schools, is quite pronounced in his good opinion of the old-fashioned spelling matches. He said last evening:

Old Way Approved

"As a means for training good spellers I do not think that the old-fashioned spelling bee can be improved upon. By it much interest, rivalry and enthusiasm was excited, and a great many very fine spellers were trained that way. Nowadays in our schools we teach spelling by both written and oral methods. The old method was deficient in that it did not give enough attention to written spelling, but on the other hand it made up for the deficiency by training the mind and memory by oral spelling. I believe that a series of spelling matches held outside of the school, as is done in the state of Missouri, is a most excellent thing for the training of good spellers.

"Because we have so many scholars now in the schools it would be impossible to pursue the methods of the old-fashioned spelling bee in our public schools, but on account of the interest and rivalry excited they would be excellent aids to the school work if held outside of school."

Another leading educator in discussing the relation between the proposed spelling matches to the present system of teaching spelling said:

Requires Good Memory

"The course of spelling which extends through the public schools in Pima county is very carefully planned, and I do not see how it can be improved upon. Two books are used, one an elementary speller, liberally supplied with illustrations, and an advanced spelling book. Some persons seem to be specially gifted in spelling, and the ability to spell depends upon a good memory to quite an extent. Anything which will increase the interest of the student in his spelling will aid greatly. A series of spelling matches, with prizes offered, to be held outside if school hours, could be a good thing to stimulate interest in spelling, and should have very helpful effects."

In Missouri, the state mentioned by Mr. Newsom, there are a regular series of spelling matches held throughout the state, and representatives are sent to Jefferson City to meet in a final match for the spelling championship of the state. Prizes are also offered, and the movement has resulted in an increased interest in spelling and has also resulted in much better work being done in the schools.

The Morgue Lady does think spelling bees would be practical in Tucson schools. Just because there is not a state-wide spelling bee doesn't mean that a county-wide event could not be sponsored by local businesses.

While it is the job of the school to educate the students, help from the community is never a bad thing, especially if that community wants well-educated workers.

The Morgue Lady is a good speller, but her typing — and proofreading — skills occasionally leave something to be desired as has been noted by more than one reader.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

"Tales from the Morgue" is a way for the Star to share stories from the treasure trove of information held in its old files.

Johanna Eubank, aka the Morgue Lady, was a research assistant in the Star Library — also known as News and Research Services — for 18 years before becoming an online content producer. She has had her share of sneezing fits after digging into dusty old files, so she's sure to find a few old stories to re-examine.

If you have suggestions, comments or questions about this blog, e-mail jeubank@tucson.com

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