Are you smarter than a fourth-grader?

Published 10:05 pm Friday, January 29, 2010

I’ve always believed that there is a minimum of what American people should know. I’m not talking about the atomic weight of hydrogen or Benjamin Franklin’s birthday, but things that author E.D. Hirsch Jr. called “cultural literacy” in 1987: Common information like when the Civil War took place, who The Beatles were or who Mark Twain is and what he wrote.

Along with that cultural literacy, I also believe that anyone over the age of 10 should be able to spell at least at the fourth-grade level.

However, there is that reality that people didn’t pay much attention in grades K through 12 to what the teacher was talking about or what was written in the textbooks or what was in the news, and I’m not just talking about people in this area, but nationwide.

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I have perused a number of message boards over the last six or seven years or so from Alabama to Kentucky, from CNN to ESPN, and found that there are a lot of people who would have problems with a fourth-grade spelling test.

It’s not just your everyday person, either. Very often, I will see grossly misspelled words scroll across the bottom of the TV screen when watching CNN, Fox or local stations.

I’m not talking about typographical errors. We have those at times in our newspaper, although we try hard not to have any. I’m talking about when it’s apparent that the person didn’t know how to spell the word.

People have a hard time spelling “its.” I’m serious. As in “The bear was cuddling its cub.” A lot of people would write “it’s cub,” for whatever reason. Maybe “cuddling it is cub” makes sense to them.

People can’t spell “your” or “you’re” right, either. “I think your wrong about that.” “Well, that’s you’re opinion,” which means “That’s you are opinion.” The same thing goes for “their,” “there” and “they’re,” too.

I’m not trying to be a spelling snob. I reach for my dictionary much more often lately than I ever have before, and I wish others would, too. “If I don’t know how to spell it, how can I find it in the dictionary?” people ask. Well, first, check the way you think it should be spelled. If that’s not right, then check other possibilities or ask somebody.

I’m not poking fun at people who can’t spell. Some of the smartest people have trouble with spelling, and English spelling was made difficult on purpose when they were inventing it way back in the day.

Just take a little time to check. You’re better off learning the right way. Its knot two tuff.

David B. Snow is the managing editor of the Demopolis Times.