Thinking about things at school

Little Bookworm had a spelling test on Halloween based on a list of holiday inspired words. To that end, among other words, the list had the words “ghoulish,” “ghastly,” “glowing,” “spooky” and, to my surprise, “florescent.” “Interesting,” I thought, “that the teacher should include in this ghoulish list a fairly obscure botanical term based on the moment a flower blooms.” I continued thinking. “She must mean ‘fluorescent,’ that spooky, glowing light.”

Being my typical officious self, I went ahead and corrected the word on the list, and then asked my child, not only to learn it, but to give it to the teacher so that the latter could correct everyone else’s word list. Little Bookworm forgot to give the updated list to the teacher. The result was that, yesterday, Little Bookworm came home with her spelling test which, by my lights, had every word spelled correctly, including “fluorescent.” The teacher marked this last word wrong, boldly writing “florescent” in the margin.

I think I know what happened. When the teacher typed up her list of spelling words, Word did not flag “florescent,” which is a legitimate, albeit unusual, word and which the teacher had spelled correctly. The problem is that the teacher doesn’t know the difference between the two words (fluorescent and florescent), and never caught what was, in fact, a mistake. I sent Little Bookworm off to school today with a very polite note from me, explaining my own confusion and letting the teacher know that it was my interference that resulted in the “mistake” on the spelling test. I also warned Little Bookworm that there was almost no chance that the teacher would admit the error, but I did guarantee that next year’s spelling test would see the word spelled correctly, with a “u.”

I’m seeing more and more often that these public school teachers don’t think. They’ve been given their curriculum, they’ve been given their text books, they’ve been given their directives from on high (the government), and they just robotically move through that. Because we’re in a good school district, the teachers are very, very good at this robotic motion and the kids are definitely learning, and learning well. Where things fall apart, though, is when something happens that the program didn’t anticipate – such as a mis-type that a computer doesn’t pick up. Then, without the curriculum crutch, the teachers’ lack of mindfulness shines through.

Everyone makes mistakes. Lord knows, I’ve made way, way more than my fair share, whether deliberate errors of thought or even more frequent errors from carelessness. What I see here, though, is a pattern. That is, the teachers’ errors don’t fall into that enormous, familiar territory called “mistakes happen to everyone, all the time.” Instead, they fall repeatedly into the narrow pathway of “thought doesn’t happen.” It’s very disheartening.

UPDATE: Little Bookworm came home today. “Did you show the teacher my letter?” “Yes,” she answered. “She said ‘I don’t care,’ and laughed.” | digg it

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  • kevin

    And the funny thing is, when you Google “ florescent” it immediately asks, “Did you mean: fluorescent but then proceeds to list approximately 900,000 hits—the majority of which appear to be on “florescent” lamps.

  • Lea

    Lets not forget that under the union rules, teacher are not encouraged to think for themselves.

  • kevin

    “Where things fall apart, though, is when something happens that the program didn’t anticipate – such as a mis-type that a computer doesn’t pick up.”

    I would like to suggest the 1985 movie Brazil for a somewhat humorous take on this.

  • judyrose

    I did a post on the problem of relying on spell checkers (
    I chose very common mistakes and tried to write about them with a little humor, although I view it as a serious problem. Spell checkers are useful – great at catching typos. But they can never replace the job of learning the right word. In an age where most writing is done on computers, and tools like spell checkers are available, learning can fall by the wayside. And that’s a real loss. The same goes for people who can’t do even simple arithmetic without their calculators (or would never think of trying). Many say that it’s no longer necessary to spend energy learning these things because the machines take care of it. But as your post illustrates – not really!

  • JJ

    You have – very hopefully, and unsupported by the facts – several times already this year shifted into what is apparently going to be your default mode for dealing with these people when they do something to highlight the depths of their own poor educations. You find a way to explain it away on the basis of a “mistake,” or “overwork,” or whatever. Which is very nice of you.

    You suppose that these people occasionally do not think. I submit that there isn’t much there with which to think. (I am not as kindly as you!)

    Miss Book: I will bet you $5,000 the alleged “teacher” did not – and does not – know the difference between the two words, and furthermore does not know that there are in fact two words. (Though you may now have alerted he, she, or it to that fact.)

  • judyrose

    I have no idea how to insert a link in a comment. Sorry. Anybody who wants a look can find it easily enough, just by clicking on “judyrose” at the bottom, and finding that post (“Ten Common Writing Mistakes…”) listed in the right hand column.

  • Ymarsakar

    Just paste the link directly judy, and wordpress will format it directly. However if you want to embed links you have to use html. Not the [] brackets on bbs boards however.

    word that appears

  • Ymarsakar

    XWord that appears

  • Ymarsakar

    oh well, it is always hard to write down the html code cause it tends to want to parse itself. Somewhere on the internet for sure though.

  • http://N/A Brasscap

    Hi! I found your website by following the Prager article link from The American Spectator. Now I have you bookmarked, which is the only bookmark I have which refers to another word beginning with book. But I digress.

    This problem with teachers not willing to be corrected has been around for some time now. When I was in the Fourth Grade, (1940 or thereabouts) we were having a class on Astronomy, and the teacher pronounced the constellation Orion as Oh’- re – on.

    I too was officious. The cute saying under my Senior picture in my Annual was “Move over, Professor. Let me show you how.” So I put up my hand and said “It’s pronounced Oh – ri’ – on, Miss *****.” Basically I was told to sit down and shut up.

    So the next day I brought my “Book Of Knowledge” on Astronomy to class. It had a pronouncing glossary in the back and I pointed to the entry for Orion and said, “See Miss ****? O RI’ on. Accent on the SECOND syllable!”

    I spent the remainder of that week sitting in a chair in the hallway outside the classroom.

    So I went on to college, then to law school, and into law practice. One day I was expounding in Law and Motion and the judge was listening intently, when I mispronounced analogous. The judge gently said, “That’s a-na’-lo-gus, Counsel.” Having learned my lesson years ago, I thanked him and went on with my argument. I prevailed, by the way.

    Robert E. Johnson

  • Ymarsakar

    The problem is that the teacher doesn’t know the difference between the two words (fluorescent and florescent), and never caught what was, in fact, a mistake.

    It is what is for people. I use it a lot. Even when I’m probably one of the people who don’t really need it because if I want to communicate a meaning, the word automatically pops into my head. Then I use to check to see if that was what I thought I had meant, and in 90% of the cases, it is consistently correct. Intuition is fun!

  • Ymarsakar

    But the funny thing is, if even I don’t know what a word i’ve used, means in an exact definitive sense, then imagine what other people are going through. Intuition is personal, it is not logical, meaning it is not scientifically reproducible. Especially not when people don’t use

  • Ymarsakar

    Instead, they fall repeatedly into the narrow pathway of “thought doesn’t happen.” It’s very disheartening.

    That’s what high school and college teachers are for. Thinking doesn’t happen on the k to 8 grades, unless the teacher is a BIG fan of reading and writing. I know my teachers were, and I owe a lot of my motivation to perfect English to teachers who gave me free books and encouraged me to read, and did reading to the class sessions to stoke the fires.

    They gave me a means and a method in which not only was it fun, educational, and inspiring, but also pragmatic in that reading helps people master the English language. One cannot master what one does not know even exists, therefore one must read, and read many various types of books and novels, in order to encounter new words, new ways of thinking, and new ways of percieving thought. Writing, is the ability to communicate, while reading is the ability to comprehend. You can have one without the other, but if you don’t have either, then you have a problem.

  • helenl

    I am a poor typist, a fair speller, and a owner of more than one dictionary that I keep close at hand. I make typos all the time. Sometimes they are bad and make me look ignorant. Sometimes I am ignorant. Sometimes I forget to use a spell checker, or one isn’t available, such as in this comment box. [Yes, I am writing this in Word, that does have a spell checker, so I’ll cut and paste, but sometimes, for a quick comment, I don’t take the time.] Which brings me to my point. (That’s a sentence fragment by design.)

    There are many logical reasons why this mistake could have been made. (That’s passive voice and not nearly as strong as active voice is.) One is that an overworked teacher simply gave out a list that was given to her, when he/she was told, “Theses are the spelling words for next week.” And he/she, in his/her haste to complete other more pressing, required tasks, didn’t even look at the words or consult a dictionary. He/she may have just passed out the lists (or copied the words onto the board) and may not know that there are two words. Okay.

    So aren’t there some possible words you don’t know and might accidentally misspell or confuse, and if you did at an awkward juncture, would you like to be accused of something dreadful—like incompetence? You seem hell-bent on undermining your child’s teacher as an authority figure in her life. It might be worth a look inward to find out why the teacher’s confession is so important to you, not that you have to tell me.

    Honesty is a virtue and would almost certainly be a way for the teacher to teach something children ought to know: That we all make mistakes and that when we do we say so and try to correct any damage we have done. But, for what ever or no reason, the teacher may not do that. If no apology is forthcoming, the parent must step in. If parents and teachers are on the same side—the child’s—everyone wins. Imperfect parents and imperfect teachers teach imperfect and sometimes over-burdened children. But when we deal in oversimplification (public school teachers are incompetent, lawyers just care about the money and drive up the cost of health care, etc.), we make enemies out of potential friends.

  • kevin

    I can’t help but notice that you failed to mention your impeccable (and I’m assuming intuitive) grammar.

  • kevin

    The previous comment was for Ymarsakar.

  • Ymarsakar

    Kevin is my agent, I’m sure he will mention it soon enough.

  • Ymarsakar

    Kevin is my agent, I’m sure he will mention it soon enough. xc

  • kevin


    Oh gimme a break! (note: not the passive voice) If you notice my first post, there is a significant likelihood that this teacher just doesn’t know the correct spelling since one can get almost 900,000 hits on Google where the word florescence is used incorrectly. You can get over a million hits if you misspell it as flourescence and over 29 million when you spell it correctly. Face it, there are a lot of people out there that don’t know how to spell fluorescence and I’d be willing to bet that this teacher is one of them.

    As a teacher, this individual professes to be an expert in a particular field (i.e. teaching.) It is hardly unreasonable for Bookworm to hold this teacher to a higher standard since teaching is his or her particular field of expertise.

  • kevin

    note to self–sarcasm is wasted on the dull.

  • Ymarsakar

    It is not as if kevin needed to elaborate on whom he was talking to. He is the agent of my derision after all. It comes with the title and the glories as they say.

  • helenl

    I can’t help but notice how the likelihood of the teacher’s not knowing increased just because you said so.

    note to self-“forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

  • kevin


    I thought the number of hits on Google, indicating the vast number of people who don’t know the correct spelling of the word, presented a compelling argument for my assertion. I would also think that a teacher marking the correctly spelled word wrong would be another indication that the teacher was basically clueless.

    I can’t help but notice this teacher immediately became possibly “overworked” or had “more pressing things to do” just because you stated it. What could be more pressing to a teacher than providing a professional level of attention to detail to the current assignment?

  • kevin

    “the agent of my derision”

    OK, we can agree on that.

  • helenl

    “What could be more pressing to a teacher than providing a professional level of attention to detail to the current assignment?” Paperwork Kevin. Piles and piles of state mandated forms, forms that have absolutely nothing to do with the reason a person chose to become a teacher.

    Don’t get me wrong, neither I nor the teacher (nor, and I’m guessing, you) think forms are more important than children. But until teachers regain autonomy in their classrooms, incidents like this will happen every day, and we are blaming the wrong people.

  • Ymarsakar

    Only the dull would not have seen it until after I had elaborated.

  • helenl

    Ymarsakar, What are you yapping about now? Who sees what? You semm hell-bent on being obtuse and pretending others are!!!

  • kevin

    Bravo helenl!

    This proves that it is possible for people of different political viewpoints to come to a common consensus; there is hope.

  • JJ

    All of which is swell, Helen, but when presented with an irrefutable correction of their irrefutable mistake, the adults in the room (teachers or not) ought to find it within themselves to acknowledge same.

    The teacher’s response: “I don’t care.”

    For which there is little excuse. In fact, no acceptable excuse. She has now created a room’s worth of children who will persistently spell “fluorescent” incorrectly – and she will, I am sure, take no responsibility whatever for that.

  • Marguerite

    The saddest part is the fact that the teacher could laughingly tell your child “I don’t care.” Translate that “I don’t have to care.”

  • Turkeyhead

    “I don’t care.” Yikes.

  • Ymarsakar

    Aw, I hope Little Bookworm isn’t too discouraged about teachers because of this one. Being wrong isn’t a laughing matter. Especially because how you act with being wrong on a little scale, determines how you act when being wrong on a grand life shattering scale.

    Bravo helenl!

    Yes, Ymarsakar, the great peacemaker. He who unites the divided. He who can bring joy and comradery to both the Left and the Right. Anymore of this, and I might get a swelled ego.

    Ymarsakar, What are you yapping about now? Who sees what? You semm hell-bent on being obtuse and pretending others are!!!

    Comment by helenl | November 16, 2006

    Let my explain something to you helenl, because you don’t seem to want to use your own faculties to figure it out for yourself. But I won’t hold it against you because you still think whatever post below is intended towards you. Kevin’s additional remarks should have shown you that some comments can actually come right below yours, and not be addressed to you.

    Other people at Bookworm Room will also benefit, if they wish from this explanation.


    I can’t help but notice that you failed to mention your impeccable (and I’m assuming intuitive) grammar.

    Comment by kevin | November 16, 2006

    Kevin violated the gentleman’s ceasefire and proceded to initiate a first strike against me. I replied with.

    Kevin is my agent, I’m sure he will mention it soon enough.

    There are around 5 additional sentences you can derive from this. But I like to keep my correspondences with Kevin short, easier on his blood pressure. And also it motivates him to return only with one liners, which I will read, where as if he wrote anything longer, I wouldn’t read. Everyone benefits, as I say.

    First, what do I mean by Kevin is my agent? I told kevin that, kevin is the agent of my derision.

    note to self–sarcasm is wasted on the dull.-Kevin

    Only a dull person would not have seen that “kevin is my agent” is a perfect opportunity to attach greater significance and meaning to it, if only to one up me. Kevin didn’t do so, and there you are.

    The second part, which said “I am sure he will mention it soon enough” is a riff on there being two Kevins. Kevin and kevin. Kevin the guy who is mostly here when commenting at Bookworm, is a polite, rational individual. kevin my agent, is someone else entirely.

    You can extrapolate much more than 2 additional sentences from what I wrote.

    Weren’t you the person, helenl, that said you don’t want to talk to me, you don’t want me to talk to you, and you don’t want to read what I’m talking about sometime in the past? What makes you think I hold you or kevin here, in any greater esteem? Yet you both continue to act moderately spiteful, by raising your own blood pressure in reading what I write. Whereas I skip over the great majority of your comments, helenl, precisely because I know you don’t want any comments from me. That means I have a modicum of self-discipline in attempting to make sure that I get what I want, and you get what you want, through ignoring your posts.

    If you don’t want to get speared by my obtuseness, helenl, get out of the kitchen.

    Would you prefer me writing several pages deriding your lack of principles and morals, helenl? It is either that or obtuseness. And you can avoid the obtuseness by not doing a first strike against me as, in contrast to what kevin here has done.

    True, you guys are not the most spiteful people I’ve met on the internet. Your facility with the English language is probably insufficient to do what Satch and Wasp could do, when they used the English language as a method of insult.

    Do you two understand that you two are transparent to me? I see through your motivations as clear as through vacuum. I’m opaque to you, obtuse if you prefer, because you do not comprehend nor do you understand me. And that is how I like it. I am under no obligation to suffer your insults and snide comments, nor am I under any obligation to “enlighten” the unenlightened and parochial.

    Because I see your motivations, I understand that if I see it, I will want to do something about it, write a rant or something about it. So I avoid you two when you write posts concerning me or concerning a subject in which I don’t want to see your views on. I’ll usually say my piece a first time, and then try to avoid any further entanglements. I have better things to do than waste my ability to percieve events through the cloud of angst and puerile banter.

    However, I do have my pride, and I won’t take a first strike sitting on my nether regions.

  • helenl

    I apologized to you previously, Ymarsakar, and am doing so again, but I haven’t a clue what you are talking about. Unless a similar apology is extended, I will, henceforth, ignore you. All you want to do is fuss. People ought to be able to express different views without insulting one another. After the first paragraph, nothing in this comment has anything to do with the topic at hand.

  • Ymarsakar

    I won’t say I won’t accept your apology, and I won’t say that I will accept it. I don’t forgive easily, and I never forget. Personality flaw, I suppose.

    I don’t care about apologies. To be honest. kevin and I don’t dislike each other, and he doesn’t have a burr up his backside over me, because we “express different views”. Because we don’t. He doesn’t like, I don’t like him.

    I care only about how a person behaves. I care not for his politics, his identity, his skin color, nor his religious beliefs. I care only for how he treats me and others. People that treat me with respect, will get it. People that do not, will not, regardless of any apologies they have offered or have not offered. It shows class to apologize, but I do not seek out apologies and they do not resolve any fundamental judgement I have of a person, if that person apologizes and then just goes on doing the same thing they did before. (i.e. Kerry)

    If you don’t want to read my explanation, helenl when you expressly attacked me for obtuse, that is your problem. I did it for the benefit of self-defense from unjust attacks on me and writings, not to entertain you or kevin. I’m sorry you guys are close minded, but it really isn’t my problem. But I will make it your problem if you try to entangle me, so if you wish put the ignore on, be my guest. Will save me a lot of trouble.

  • Bookworm

    Hey, a little too much heat there, guys. I get the feeling that you’ve been arguing at cross-purposes. I value both of you for the comments you leave here, so I hope you won’t let hurt feelings interfere with the value you bring to the blog (although, apparently, not to each other). So, I’m going to be Mom here and step in and ask you to cool your jets. (And it was nice of you to apologize HelenL, and a little less than gracious, Y, not to accept it. And that’s definitely the Mom in me talking, because I have this altercation constantly with my own kids.)

    So, come back happy later.

  • Anna

    Bookworm, you really just need to get out of CA! Might I interest you in a nice mid-sized city in Ohio where children are actually taught the Constitution, say the Pledge, sing the National Anthem and if they say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” it does not cause a fury? 😀

  • judyrose

    Ymar, thanks for trying to teach me how to insert links in comments. I did just paste it when I wrote the comment (way up there at No. 4), but it didn’t create a clickable link. I don’t know html code from a hole in the wall so I’m not likely to go that route. Anyway, my blog is easy – all my posts are listed in the right hand column and link from there. It’s perfect for the unsophisticated blogger, which is what I am.

    Oops, better sign off. Time for Grey’s Anatomy.

    Sorry, BW, for this little blog-school episode on your chunk of real estate.

  • helenl

    Yes, Mom. From now on I’ll express my opinion and get my fanny out of Dodge! :-) This is my final comment on this thread. Good night.

  • Trish Olsen

    Bookworm, I wish Little Bookworm’s teacher had replied to you with a brief note of apology for the mishap, especially since you brought it to her attention in a gracious manner. She could have (even) made up a little “story” (just to save-face) by saying something like, “I was a bit “harried” the day I composed that spelling list” or some such message — promising to bring it up in class for correction & discussion. IMHO, she missed a great opportunity to show a little humanity to her students by a) explaining EVERYONE makes mistakes sometimes, even teachers! & b) making a learning experience out of it by opening up a discussion on how two words, spelled almost identically, can have such different meanings.

  • Trish Olsen

    Wow. I’m sorry for the triple post — don’t think that’s happened before. I’ve been having problems with my PC & when the comment didn’t seem to register, I punched a couple too many times! Woe is me.

  • Trish Olsen

    Looks like it self-corrected — so I retract my apology! :)

  • kevin

    “Only a dull person would not have seen that `kevin is my agent’ is a perfect opportunity to attach greater significance and meaning to it, if only to one up me. Kevin didn’t do so, and there you are.”

    Actually, I did and here “are around 5 additional sentences you can derive from this:”

    1) I recognize kevin as my intellectual superior and as such, I fear him.

    2) I will speak cryptically, posing as the intellectual I fancy myself to be.

    3) I hope no one else catches on that I really am not that clever; I know, I’ll tell everyone how transparent they are—yeah, that’s the ticket.

    4) I’m embarrassed that kevin pointed out how ridiculous I looked when I used grammatically incorrect sentences while bragging on what an intuitive wordsmith I am.

    5) I’ll respond to any criticism with the usual long-winded, meandering, pseudo-intellectual post so people loose interest because I’m incapable of adequately expressing myself with succinct thoughts (as the “kevin is my agent” post indicates.)

    Well Ymarsakar, I’m still anxiously waiting to hear what your area of expertise is (other than braggadocio that is.) In the meantime if you would please quit telling us how smart you are, I’ll quit calling you on it.

  • Trish Olsen

    I can see it now…
    Fast forward a year or two: A former 3rd grade classmate of Little Bookworm’s makes it to the finals of the National Spelling Bee! His big moment arrives & the word is “flUorescent — The fluorescent lights cast an eerie spell on the spooky scene.”
    He then thinks to himself, “What a stroke of luck! I learned this in 3rd grade!” & recites, without hesitation, “Fluorescent: f-l-o-r-e-s-c-e-n-t” (enthusiastically followed by the spoken word.)
    Uh, you can imagine this poor kid’s reaction when he’s told his answer is… WRONG!
    I don’t know about YOU, but I’d find that 3rd grade teacher — & sue! :)

  • Trimegistus

    I’m starting to see some home-schooling in Little Bookworm’s future…

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  • Michael Devereaux

    The concept of “Grace Under Pressure” does not apply to this teacher.
    When a parent attaches a note to his or her child’s work, the teacher must always gratefully acknowledge its receipt; if possible respond with a return note before the child leaves for the day; if necessary take the time to develop the correct response within a day or two. Very few – if any! – things on the teacher schedule take priority over this activity. As a former high school teacher for seven years, I cannot come up with a single higher priority item.

    When said note is a gentle correction of a teacher’s mistake, if the teacher is confused about the correct response, the teacher must still thank the child for bringing the note to him or her, must tell the child to thank his or her parent for their time, and promise the child that he or she will take a very close look into the problem.

    To flippantly say, “I don’t care”, and then to LAUGH! … it takes the breath away.

    That’s an indication of either extreme nervousness, or a severe reaction to a parent that that teacher is beginning to dislike extremely. Neither response, in the presence of the child, is at all appropriate.


  • Michael Devereaux

    As a follow-up, let me say I was perhaps slightly off-base in my remarks. I had a World History teacher who was very imposing, gruff, taciturn. He was a great teacher. I assume that, had I shown up with a note from my parents, he would have frowned impressively, nodded impassively, and growled “I will examine this very soon.” I bet he would have given me a reply within a few days – probably sealed in an envelope addressed to my parents.

    Not EXACTLY the prim and proper verbiage I used in the prior post, but the presence of his gravity and of his acknowledgment – and the lack of implied insult, and the lack of frivolous disregard – still make my point.

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  • Ron19

    And also it motivates him to return only with one liners, which I will read, where as if he wrote anything longer, I wouldn’t read.
    This sounds like good advice, to not read any comment that is longer than a one liner.