Education Letter to the Editor

Dialects, Spelling Bees, and a Phonetic Alphabet

March 04, 2008 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

American orthography is, to put it charitably, dysfunctional. Whatever the dialect, neither alphabet nor spelling conforms to our speech. Yet, educators insist on perpetuating these incongruities.

Take as an example spelling bees. Students are rewarded for memorizing arcane patterns of letters only obliquely related to the words they purport to represent. Incredible.

Consider the countless hours already wasted by students in learning an antiquated alphabet in the service of a lunatic orthography. How much useful knowledge could have been acquired instead? And what scholastic advances have been delayed?

My complaint is hardly novel. No less an American than Benjamin Franklin despaired over our “system” of spelling and devised a phonetic alphabet. As I see it, the challenge lies not in creating a phonetic alphabet—there are such aplenty—but in selecting and promoting one.

I urge educators to assess the present plight of American orthography, devise a practical means of transitioning to a phonetic alphabet of choice, and then broadcast their conclusions and implement their recommendations.

Committee, anyone?

Paul Starbuck

Perry, Okla.

A version of this article appeared in the March 05, 2008 edition of Education Week as Dialects, Spelling Bees, and a Phonetic Alphabet


Student Well-Being Webinar After-School Learning Top Priority: Academics or Fun?
Join our expert panel to discuss how after-school programs and schools can work together to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss.
Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: May 3, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: April 26, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: March 29, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Quiz Quiz: Test Your Knowledge of Trending Education News
How well do you know the trending news in education? Test your knowledge by taking our quiz.