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Knocking spelling bee-contestants down a peg, the Oregon Department of Education has declared students can use spell check technology on their standardized writing tests. The logic seems somewhat straightforward: it is the twenty-first century, and as a junior at East Portland's Parkrose High School, points out "spell check is everywhere, even on cell phones."

First Things editor Joe Carter isn't so sure, though:

As an editor, I consider spell check to be one of the greatest technological advances since the pencil eraser. But I’m troubled by the idea that seems to be taking root that certain tools designed to aid cognitive abilities can be adequate substitutes for particular skill sets.

However, he also acknowledges that this almost-angst doesn't carry over into the debates about whether or not students should be able to use calculators for advanced standardized testing. His reason? It eases some of the "drudgery of doing basic calculations." Asks Carter: "Is using spell check like using a calculator? How important is spelling as a skill related to writing anyway?"

Moving away from an emphasis on spelling, of course, could have a number of consequences. Consider, for example, the current plight of spelling bee champs as expressed in the 2002 movie Spellbound. Said a former bee-winner: "I don't think it really helped me, in my love live; my nascent love life. I think that having won something like that could be regarded as being a significant liability."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.