Spell Bound Apr 2, 2014

by RICK RADER, MD * EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

If it's words they needed, they could have contacted and consulted with any one of a number of "exceptional parents." They encounter hundreds of them in the course of a therapy visit, an IEP meeting, appeal for denied services, hearing for compassionate use of an unapproved medication.

My earliest recollection of the power potential of spelling came from my parents who would spell words in front on me so I wouldn't fully understand what they were talking about. "What time are you taking Ricky to the d-e-n-t-i-s-t tomorrow?" Ernie would ask Sylvia.

Sometimes the stakes were really high, "Did he know what it meant when you told him that you are taking S-p-a-r-k-y to the f-a-r-m on Saturday?" Sparky was our beagle with failure to thrive, and the "farm" was where Sparky would be reported to be dropped off where he was last seen running, chasing turkeys and swimming in the creek, happy as a lark.

Learning to spell in school in the 1950's was done by r-o-t-e. You simply had to memorize lists of words that were mandatory to learn. It was a legacy method with its origins rooted in the late 1700s. Writing in the Journal of Literacy Research, Mary Jo Fresch offered, "The instructional method aimed at having students learn the alphabet and then combinations of letters to prepare them to read 180 syllables. In 1839, Horace Mann claimed, 'that the superior spelling method was one with power to arrest and fix the attention of the learner,' which the alphabet method failed to do." He suggested the "whole word" method, which utilized a memorization approach. In the 1920's through the 1940's, it was accepted that there were 3,000 words for a spelling vocabulary and the students had to approach them in the same memorization drudgery that mastery of the multiplication tables demanded. You simply had to know that 9 x 4 equaled 36; no rhyme, no reason, just the only accepted response. The same applied to "momentum,"... m-o-m-e-n-t-u-m.... no rhyme, no reason, just the only accepted response. No partial credit for suggesting that the letters "t," "o," "n" were in there somewhere.

Spelling bees were part of the national fabric and were the academic equivalent of the "science fair" without having to build a scale model volcano. There has been a welcome resurgence of interest in spelling bees with the national finals receiving national media attention. While ESPN has no plans to cancel "March Madness" for the semi-finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the national spelling bee finals in May are covered by CNN and "Good Morning America."

Spelling at this level is by no means a walk in the "p-ar- k." Just peruse some of the past words that have clinched the finals for these brainiacs: Antediluvian - Relating to the period before the flood described in the Bible. Xanthosis - A yellowish discoloration of degenerating tissues, especially seen malignant neoplasms. Chiaroscurist - An artist who specialized in chiaroscuro. Appoggiatura - An embellishing note or tone preceding an essential melodic note or tone and usually written as a note of smaller size. Pococurante - Indifferent, nonchalant. Laodicean - Lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics. Not exactly in the comfort zone of shortstops, goalies or quarterbacks, the f-o-c-i of E-S-P-N. Recently, the Spelling Bee semi-finals received national media attention. According to an article from The Associated Press, "a marathon spelling bee between two Kansas city-area students who exhausted the initial word list last month ended after 29 more rounds when the eventual runner-up stumbled over the word 'stifling.'" It's hard to imagine that they ran out of words. They had to resort to actually looking in the dictionary after they shot through the official list provided by Scripps, the official administrators of the competition.

If it's words they needed, they could have contacted and consulted with anyone of a number of "exceptional parents." They encounter hundreds of them in the course of a therapy visit, an IEP meeting, appeal for denied services, hearing for compassionate use of an unapproved medication.

While the words they could provide may not have the cache or sophistication of "succedaneum," "logorrhea," or "ursprache," they have far more impact on individuals with dreams and aspirations.

They would have simply said, "take a crack at these: dignity... respect... treatment... goals... abilities... attempt... success... and inspire." While they may not be words that can trip you up, they are certainlywords you can live by.

I understand that Sparky loved the f-a-r-m.

<< Back to EDITORIAL Page