Education: Casting a spell

In some countries, Halloween is something that is celebrated on 31st October, though as with many customs its original purpose is forgotten or ignored and other unconnected customs have been added onto it.

In some countries, Halloween is something that is celebrated on 31st October, though as with many customs its original purpose is forgotten or ignored and other unconnected customs have been added onto it.

Halloween is, according to Wikipedia, “the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Saints’ Day. It begins with the observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and all the faithful departed.”

Nowadays, however, it is portrayed more as celebrating ghosts and evil spirits as if they are casting spells to haunt the living. Added to it has come the unrelated ‘Trick or Treat’ visits, where children, dressed in these macabre costumes, knock on people’s doors and ask for a treat with the implication that they will play a trick on anyone who does not oblige.

Of course, the idea of many spells being cast has been glorified and romanticised by such works as the Harry Potter series and many are caught up in the notion of these spells. Naturally, we say we do not take them seriously. However, we might raise a vaguely related question that many children (and indeed adults still) raise: does spelling really matter? Must we always spell words correctly?

Many readers will be familiar with the following piece that challenges us to see if we can read it: “Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

Most people can read it – if we cannot, it is saying that it does not matter in what order the letters in a word are as long as the first and last letters are in the right place.

As long as we recognise the first and last letters, we can work out what is meant; our minds can do the sorting for us, rather than our fingers or word check! Perversely though, in our English language, we come across further confusion when a word that is spelt the same is pronounced differently, depending on context, and means something completely different.

So, someone might say “I am not content with the content” or another might declare “I object to that object” or “I need to read again what I read” or “Excuse me but there is no excuse for that”. There are plenty of other words that are spelt the same but mean something different, including bow, row, read, desert, lead, bass, close, dove, live, mobile, polish, object, produce, refuse, resume, wind, and wound. Context, it would appear, explains all.

The danger in all of this is that we use the same logic and arguments when it comes to more important things than spelling. We like to think that it does not matter if we shift our values, that we can do so depending on context, or depending on meaning. We think that as long as we do the exterior things alright it does not matter what we do on the inside; as long as we do the big things correctly, we can do what we like in between. So, we look at values as ‘vlueas’; we get the general drift but basically we can do what we want. We look at loyalty as if it was ‘lyatoly’, because we stand by someone even if they have done something wrong; we keep quiet when our friend has done something wrong and do not speak out against the actions that are clearly wrong.

It is true to say as well that we think that context is what matters when comes to values – we think we can shift our thinking around and do what we want inside broad barriers. Generally, our thinking with regard to context is that if it suits us personally then we can shift the values around, we can be pious on the outside, on the surface, but underneath we muddle things up. We look more to the value of something (usually in financial terms) than on the value involved.

How we spell does matter; that is fundamental. Equally how we look at values does matter too, fundamentally. We need to take very seriously the need to ensure we treat values seriously, correctly, completely. And we need to spell that out to our children very clearly. If we do not do so, we are casting a spell over their education. This is no trick or treat game, unconnected to what is at the heart of our daily living. We need to return to being all saints and the only way to do that is to uphold our values. If we refuse, our world will be refuse; content matters for us to be content.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
  • Email: [email protected]
  • website: www.atschisz

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