American English spelling is inflated and inefficient, according to many intellectuals throughout American history.
They insisted that words such as through, rhyme, prologue, phantom and dropped “awt” to be “speld” as thru, rime, prolog, fantom and dropt.
EPS alumna Christine Ogren (PhD 1996), a professor at The University of Iowa, stumbled upon this issue recently and found it fascinating enough to pursue the topic it in addition to her primary historical research.
She discovered that the National Education Association (NEA) took up the Simplified Spelling Movement during the Progressive Era at the turn of the century. NEA leaders proposed a list of simplified words that should be taught in schools instead of the traditional spellings, which they saw as educational obstacles for teachers and pupils.
Despite support from a U.S. President, a Supreme Court justice, university leaders, publishers, and famous authors – negative public sentiment killed the NEA’s effort to make education more efficient, Ogren said.
"Educators are always trying to balance (innovation and public opinion)," she said.
Ogren wrote about the NEA’s struggle to promote simplified spelling after she came across documents using the system while researching the history of state normal schools – her primary focus.
Her research on normal schools developed out of her interest in the history of women in higher education and bridges the traditionally separate fields of K-12 education and higher education history.
Ogren found that normal schools functioned as successful higher education for rural women (and many men) with lower social backgrounds who couldn’t leave home for UW-Madison, let alone East Coast schools, she said.
“So what I began to put together was ‘this is where women were educated’; but at the time I was writing, people who wrote the history of women's education wrote about the Wellesleys, the Smiths, the Vassars, and places like UW and The University of Iowa,” she said. “I think people need a better sense of the roots of who has gone to higher education, how higher education has served people, and the non-traditional students at the Plattevilles and the Whitewaters and the Superiors of this world.”
Ogren considers herself an “accidental” historian of teachers and teacher education because her main interest expanded from the history of education for women to non-traditional students in general.
Her expertise in this area gave her a unique perspective on the union protests in Madison this February.
“When I was watching news… I was yelling at the TV, ‘It's about gender!’” she said.
The unions that would be hit hardest represent female-dominated professions, while the exempted police and firefighter unions are male dominated, Ogren said.
“No one was acknowledging that,” she said. “I had a moment of extreme frustration because of what I knew about history – and that it was not in the discussion.”
Ogren picked up her pen and wrote a commentary published in the Teachers College Record.
“That was the first time I wrote about a current topic, but I was writing about the history so people could understand the role of history in the current debate,” Ogren said.