Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Importens of Gud Speling

The Importens of Gud Speling
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Knowing how to spell is critical. If you want people to take you seriously, you have to be able to spell. And you can't rely on your spell checker, because it only finds misspelled words, not correctly-spelled words in the wrong place.

That's why sentences like "John end eye went too the store, two" will always sail through without any problems.

But that doesn't mean you should skip the spell checker completely. Who knows? It might save you from the same ridicule as Michael Levy, dean of Markham Intermediate School on Staten Island, New York. He's the latest winner of the "This guy is in charge of educating our kids?!" award.

In May, Levy sent a letter -- chock full of spelling, grammar and punctuation errors -- to the parents of all the 8th graders, saying their children would be punished for an "unexcecpable" food fight in the "caferteria." He then demanded each parent sign the letter and return it, or their child would be excluded from all senior "activates."

The Staten Island Advance published a copy of Levy's letter and said they found at least 16 errors. That's because they weren't trying hard enough. I found 29 (including a missing space in his boss' last name, Della Rocca).

You can't be an effective leader of educators when you use the word "from" instead of "form," "an" instead of "on," or "out" instead of "our." And you lose all credibility with your students when they know how to use commas better than you. To be a leader, you need to lead by example. "Dew as I ssay, knot as I dew" just doesn't cut it nowadays.

What's worse is that Levy wanted to punish the entire 8th grade for the "unexcecpable" behavior of a few bad kids. The letter said all the students would be punished collectively, but later said that each child's punishment would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

In other words, NOT collectively.

The letter, which was written, printed, and distributed within 45 minutes of the "caferteria" chaos, isn't Levy's only sin. He is also stained with the sin of omission. That's because he forgot to ask his boss, Principal Emma Della Rocca, if he could send out the letter in the first place. (He said he came up with the punishment "(a)fter discussing with our Principal Mrs DellaRocca.")

But Levy never had that discussion, and Principal Della Rocca overrode his punishment. In fact, Principal Della Rocca snapped Levy back so fast, his head bruised his tailbone. She said they would only discipline the students who were involved in the food fight.

"I would never have anticipated that. . . Mr. Levy would actually write something that would have not been readable," Della Rocca told the New York Daily News.

(Ooh, "not readable." That's harsh. What's next? "Writing angry letters to parents: so simple, even a caveman could do it?")

She also said the school would investigate Levy's conduct, and would hold a disciplinary hearing the next day.

There's an old philosophical puzzle that ponders what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. In this case, what happens when the irresistible force of a dean's zero tolerance meets the immovable object who is his boss? You find you're not so irresistible, especially after you get a good old-fashioned dope slap, with the promise of further punishment and humiliation.

However, two months later, there is still no word as to what happened to the Sword of Damocles over Levy's head. For all I know, it's still there.

One parent wanted the sword to drop. Rajiv Gowda, who is also the president of the local Community Education Council, said Levy should be fired for the error(s).

"This sends a bad message and sets a bad example," Gowda told the Daily News. "We are for zero tolerance when kids make a mistake. What is good for the goose is good for the gander."

Now I don't think Levy should be fired, because he was at his wit's end with these kids, and some of them probably deserved punishment. But neither should he escape without any punishment of his own.

In these days of zero tolerance among educators, I think it's only fair we have zero tolerance for educators. So should we follow his lead and punish all Markham Intermediate School teachers for his poor grammar and spelling? Or should we only single him out and give him the punishment he so richly deserves?

Like writing "I will proofread my work and remember my place in the food chain" 250,000 times.

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