At first sight, Smith’s proposal appears as a sensible and pragmatic response to the problem of poor spelling. He is not arguing for abandoning the rules of spelling, only for taking a relaxed attitude towards a relatively small number of commonly misspelled words. Unfortunately, in today’s philistine intellectual climate, this pragmatic response can only end up legitimising poor standards of literacy. Taking an eclectic approach towards the rules of spelling would send the signal that how words are written is negotiable, even unimportant. Once variant spelling becomes acceptable for some commonly misspelled words, the list will grow and grow.
My principal objection to ‘variant spelling’ is that it reinforces the pernicious idea that children and young people today cannot be expected to meet the difficult challenge of learning how to use language correctly. For some time now, influential educators have asked whether it is desirable to teach children correct spelling. Some pedagogues argue that teaching spelling is a waste of time that serves no positive purpose. Others claim that an insistence in the classroom on spelling everything correctly frustrates those who suffer from learning disabilities and dyslexia.