363. Form and Function

Some children want to know why neatness and correct spelling have to be such a big deal. After all, they know what they mean by what they write, and so do plenty of other people. When they’re first starting to write, I agree with them. Of course it’s more important to communicate than to spell everything right and have it look pretty. But when they’re a little older, and more fluent, it’s time to start writing in a way that lets as many people as possible read what they’ve written. Diaries and notes to friends can still go by the old rules, or lack thereof, but if the purpose of writing is to communicate, it’s good to know and use some of the tools of the trade.
As I write this, I feel a little bit as if some English teacher I had in high school has temporarily taken over my brain. I can’t believe I’m writing this. I’m usually what I’d call a utilitarian snob. That is, I generally ask whether things work, rather than how they look, and so far, I have a tendency to look down on people who consider appearance important. Yesterday, I bought a floor lamp at K-Mart, because the one I bought twenty-seven years ago at Sears doesn’t work too well any more. I use the old one when I sit at the computer now; I still can’t throw it out or give it away. Neither lamp will inspire anyone to comment on what a lovely, elegant floor lamp it is. But they both work. When it gets dark outside, my apartment can still be light.
And yet I’ve recently learned that even when I buy a floor lamp for my apartment, where I live alone, it does some good to think about how it will look
to other people. They’re more likely to come visit me if my apartment feels welcoming. Since I do need to have some company once in a while, it’s very practical to think about appearance. Whether I like it or not, at least some of my friends will be more likely to visit me if my apartment looks good.
And when people write, their words are more likely to be read if they are neat and accurately spelled. Misspelled words distract people like me, and make it so that the message of the writer is harder to get. Same thing with messy handwriting. Of course, computers make handwriting less of an issue, but the issue hasn’t disappeared yet.
I can’t dwell on this subject too long. What I’m doing is reluctantly conceding that some people I’ve argued with in the past do have a point. I’m ready to compromise. I’ll admit that I’ve sometimes underemphasized the importance of appearance if they’ll admit that they’ve sometimes overemphasized it. If they’ll stop bemoaning the “atrocious” written work being produced by today’s youth, I’ll help some children who are ready to focus on spelling and handwriting. Deal?

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