[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1994/1 p1 later designated J16]
[See Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, SPB articles, and book Written Dialects by Kenneth Ives.]


Kenneth Ives.

English Standards Project.

In March, the U.S. Department of Education discontinued funding for this project, at its midpoint, just as the second round of drafts was being reviewed for distribution.

The tentative standards being circulated seemed primarily for opportunities rather than for content, and open to qualitative rather than quantitative assessment. This would make complicated and imprecise any over all comparisons between schools, and the setting of specific minimum levels of competence. Probably both types of standards are needed, but production of only one type may have cost the Center for Reading the renewal of its contract.

International Reading Association and National Council of Teachers of English are discussing with the Department of Education how to redirect and continue the project.

An Invisible Elephant?

Are the irregularities of English spelling, and the advantages of spelling reform, so large and pervasive that most people cannot see them?

A recent analysis of the 400 most frequently occurring words indicates that about half would need to be changed to conform to phonic rules. Thus, until spelling is reformed, both phonic and whole word approaches are needed, and will have their partisans and detractors. Thus the "Great Debate" between these two approaches will likely continue inconclusively.

With the use of received, "correct" spellings being a mark of an educated, middle class person, there are strong psychological and cultural pressures to accept and use them, in order to be accepted in educated society. These pressures produce perceptual barriers to facing the inconsistencies. Hence the possibility of changing them is emotionally and culturally difficult for many people to consider.

How can that obstacle be reduced?

Increasing Visibility.

Noah Webster used the nationalist enthusiasm following the American War of Independence to introduce some spelling reforms. Those that became accepted still distinguish American from British spellings. From 1898 to 1916, the National Education Association, the Simplified Spelling Board, and President Theodore Roosevelt built on the optimism and activism of the Progressive Era to introduce some other changes, a few of which continue. The short form of program is the most widely accepted.

In the past year in the United States there have been several developments.

American Literacy Council has added sound to its SoundSpeler program, to model pronounciation for its learners.

Better Education thru Simplified Spelling has produced a 23 minute Video tape on spelling reform, and shown it to the Program Committee of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association. BETSS has also met with the Acting Dean of the College of Education of Wayne State University in Detroit.

Representatives of the three spelling reform organizations - American Literacy Council, Better Education thru Simplified Spelling, and Simplified Spelling Society - met in Chicago to share views and experiences, and see a demonstration of the SoundSpeler program. As the "Spelling Reform Coalition" they have been accepted as a "response group" to the English Standards Project. If that project resumes, they will likely be reactivated to respond to its proposed standards.

The five standards proposed in this column in the last issue were included in a letter published in Reading Today, the publication of the International Reading Association which goes to its 94,000 members.

An interest group on Phonics and Regularized Readings will be proposed at the International Reading Association convention in Toronto this May.

The first stage in marketing a product is getting an awareness of it to at least a substantial minority of potential users. In what other ways can we get the basic issues of spelling irregularities, and the benefits of reform, widely discussed?

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1994/1 p16 later designated J16]


January 21, 1994 ...

The Simplified Spelling Society quite correctly maintains that the English language contains many irregular spellings. They cause particular hardship to the very young.

The federal government is not in a position to mandate changes in school curriculum. Therefore, I urge you to bring the alternative you propose to the attention of the states. This can be done through the associations that deal with curriculum matters. ...

I hope this information is helpful to you, and I wish you the very best of success.

Sincerely, (signed) Nevzer Stacey, Director
Higher Education and Adult Learning Division
United States Department of Education

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