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Extenuating circumstances aside… July 26, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, societal commentary, teaching.
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A friend posted an article today on Facebook titled, “I won’t hire people who use poor grammar.  Here’s why.”   The article is written by Kyle Wiens, who is the CEO of iFixit.  He hires people who write technical documentation.  In the context of needing people who write well, I sort of understand why he would think the way he does.  However, I have to admit that I personally would like to retitle it, “I am an ignorant asshole. Here’s why.”

A while back, I wrote a post on misunderstanding learning disabilities where I discussed the very common misconception that people who make mistakes with writing are not detail oriented or may even be lazy.  I made two arguments in that post: 1 – Learning disabilities exist on a continuum, and only the people who have some of the worst disabilities are identified.  2 – People who are intelligent are often able to use their other abilities to cover up their disabilities, making their identification as LD even more difficult.  Therefore, you may have someone who is incredibly intelligent but still frequently has difficulty with spelling or grammar.

In my personal experience, I have found that spelling and grammar are very seldom indicative of someone’s true ability.  I spent a while working with someone who was dyslexic, editing their writing.  I can tell you from personal experience that it is a lot easier to clean up the grammar and spelling errors of someone who is dyslexic than it is to teach someone to clearly communicate, regardless of their facility with the English language.  Someone who can spell well is not necessarily articulate.  Ability to explain complex ideas is a better indication of someone’s intelligence, even if that explanation includes misspellings or misuse of punctuation.

Many years ago, I had someone who witnessed some damage to my car.  I had to later ask this person to write a letter to my insurance company explaining what she had seen.  When she gave me the letter, every word was spelled correctly and the punctuation was perfect.  She was, after all, a secretary who spent a good chunk of her day typing up letters dictated to her by her supervisor.  However, the sentences made no sense.  You could not tell heads or tails about what had happened to the vehicles based on her description.  Yet based on what Wiens wrote in his article, this person would be a better choice than someone who explained the idea clearly yet made a few spelling or grammatical errors.  By his own reasoning, he would have never hired someone like Agatha Christie. I mean, obviously she didn’t know how to communicate using written language nor did she have an eye for detail, right?

Wiens uses the phrase, “extenuating circumstances aside,” which supposedly means he understands that there are people with documented difficulties.  Here’s the problem: no one is born with a sign on their forehead proclaiming they’re dyslexic.  Very often, they may not know it and will work very hard to deal with their difficulties, attributing the problem to a lack of eye for details.  Many people go through life not knowing they have a disability, and it gets harder to deal with it when others decide to use superficial means like spelling as a proxy for intelligence.

(Incidentally, I misused the words right and write the first time I wrote this post.  I don’t think that means I’m an idiot.  I think it just means I need to proof my work a couple times.  However, the real indicator of intelligence is realizing that even with multiple rounds, I miss errors, so the logical choice is to get fresh eyes to look stuff over.  Unfortunately, I don’t want to use up my potential copy editors’ good will on blog posts, so you’ll have to continue to deal with the occasional error if you continue to read the blog.)

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Comments»

1. karifur - July 26, 2012

Don’t worry – there is no shortage of people on the internet who are ready to point out your spelling/grammer errors whenever they happen.

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2. karifur - July 26, 2012

PS – Any errors in the previous comment were intentionally placed for effect. Yeah, that’s it.

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mareserinitatis - July 26, 2012

Actually, when I found my write/right mistakes, I considered leaving them there for effect. (Or is it affect?) 😉

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3. Anandi Raman Creath (@anandi) - July 26, 2012

Interesting. I would never have thought about the LD angle, though I do find that engineers are often pretty bad about grammar/spelling, probably because they didn’t have to write as much through college and maybe not even at work. Also, since I work with a LOT of people for whom English is not their first/native language, I try to cut people a lot of slack in this area.

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