A college English professor of my acquaintance recently attached this bumper sticker to his Toyota: MELVIL DEWEY LIVZ! A quiet curmudgeon, he seldom openly rails against what he perceives as a cavalier disdain many contemporary students have toward correct spelling. His bumper sticker voices an esoteric protest. Whenever he's asked to explain the motto, he merely suggest that Dewey would no doubt commend today's pupils' efforts at modifying orthography. When Melvil Dewey died in 1931 at age 80, few seriously considered his lifelong campaign to reform English spelling. But Dewey was accorded a modicum of immortality for developing the library classification system that bears his name. It was believed that the Dewey Decimal System would remain his only enduring contribution. But Dewey Decimal has been largely replaced by the Library of Congress classification, and what had ostensibly died with Dewey, according to many teachers, is being resurrected by th ousands of students who've probably never heard of him.
Since many of them have not embraced correct spelling, it appears that classrooms all over America are experiencing a revival of Dewey's orthographic philosophy. Except that educators aren't calling it reform.
Recalling his early championing of metric measurement while attending elementary school in Adams Center, New York, Dewey wrote: ``I desyded that the world needed just 1 mezur for length, 1 for capasiti, and 1 for weit, and that they should all be in simpl decimals lyk our muni.'' Given this disregard for formal spelling, Dewey would likely have cheered at least the spelling from a college sophomore's American History test. ``The mishonaries tryed to convert the chippiwas, who were cathlics into becoming
A freshman admitted she couldn't spell and said she just sounded out difficult words, and apparently some that aren't so difficult. One of her recent papers recounted certain ``illeagle'' acts against the ``indeans'' by the ``govermint,'' and made fleeting reference to the ``assignation'' of Abraham Lincoln.
Another student completed a term paper on ``migrint'' workers. Attempting to ``anser problems related to them,'' she observed they weren't ``payed'' enough.
Most students in my communications classes say spelling is a problem, but also point to a lack of concern on the part of some teachers.
One student, at least, remains optimistic, however. After observing a panel discussion on the subject of declining academic standards in our nation's schools, the young man submitted an assessment of the discussion that concluded: ``People are quik to critasize. Things run in cycles. . . . This is probly just a faze were going threw.''
Michael Fedo, a free-lance writer, teaches communications at a Minnesota community college.