If I Were Curriculum Queen, Here’s What I’d Do

I can’t speak to math, science or geography, only to say that I think that by the time kids enter high school, they should be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide without using a calculator, know that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around, and be able to find Europe on a map.

But when it comes to the “language arts,” I have some more definite ideas. Here’s one of them:

I’d require that cursive hand writing be taught beginning in third grade. By fifth grade, students would begin each school day by writing independently for ten or fifteen minutes in a spiral bound journal, which would be kept in the classroom. They could write anything at all that they wanted, but because some students can’t think of a thing to say when faced with a blank page, on the chalkboard, I’d put sayings, proverbs, spelling tips, that they could copy or sentences to complete to get them started. I’d circulate among them, correcting any bad habits of letter formation.

I’d teach keyboarding in the second semester of the fifth grade, and from then on keyboarding and cursive writing would coexist in the classroom (provided of course that computers were available) with ten or fifteen minutes beginning each school day (or in English class once they reached high school) writing by hand in the journal , come hell or high water. I’d require that some written assignments be done in cursive.

Teachers will object that there is not enough time to do this because standardized testing  mandates the teaching of so much material, and anyway students don’t need to know how to write a running hand in the digital age.

Have we really reached the stage where teachers don’t have ten minutes of discretionary time in the school day?

As for “need,” of course students don’t “need” cursive writing the way Charles Dickens, or for that matter our great grandmothers “needed” it, but they do need to be able to think their way carefully through a sentence; they need to think creatively and imaginatively, and they need to build neural connections that lead to increased language fluency. Neuroscientific studies indicate that overcoming the motor challenge posed by cursive writing leads to these outcomes.

But more research is needed to explore the effect writing in cursive has on the brain before we jettison it from the curriculum! Bill Gates, are you listening?

And as an afterthought: Did you know J.K Rowling wrote the first drafts of the Harry Potter books by hand?

4 thoughts on “If I Were Curriculum Queen, Here’s What I’d Do

  1. There is time. There is always time. I think it is a great idea. How about rewards for the best handwriting? Competition is always good. Nice pens to use would be great too. The teacher could hand them out for the handwriting and then have them give them back when they are done. How about discussing Thank You notes and condolence notes and how to compose them? High School graduates should know how to write a Thank You note and a condolence note. It amazes me how many adults can’t write a condolence note. And condolences always should be done by hand. Always. I think handwriting is a reflection of our humanity. So what does that say about this poor generation who will graduate from high school unable to write “Thank you” or “I’m so sorry.” Hmmmmmmm. Not good.


  2. Some great ideas—especially teaching how to write a thank you and a condolence note. Talk about need! This ability is something kids will need all their lives and yet nobody seems to teach them that there are such things as thank you notes. And yes—these personal notes should always be handwritten!


  3. Hi Mary,

    Cursive writing is certainly linked to the creative mind, and any creative person can verify that, even a performing artist. I couldn’t believe they cut it from school curricula, but then again, even in my day only American history was required. I heard they also did/will cut the requirement for phys ed, too. Crazy! However, I studied cursive in third grade; I remember it distinctly. I learned to read and write early–by my mother, long before kindergarten, probably at 3 years old (I knew letter names, if not the alphabet, by a year and a half). And my mother, who was an executive secretary, was also teaching me to type at 5 years old–I typed out Peter Rabbit as a self-chosen exercise. I also was studying piano from 3 years old, so it wasn’t a huge stretch for finger coordination, which prompts me to suggest that music, too, is an essential learning tool. Our education curriculum falls way short these days in the humanities. We are a society that thinks only what is lucrative or scientific is worthwhile, yet there are so many studies showing how music and creativity support the scientific mind. And let’s not get started on standardized testing! It’s a topic that frequently comes up on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, and it is such an obstacle to getting a true and deep education. We should all protest and curse out the cutting of cursive from the curriculum. Thank you for caring and sharing your unique insights. It’s really the “little conversations” that create change.


  4. I’m sure you’re right; mastering those fine motor skills does promote creativity, and you are a good example.

    We can blame those “core standards” for the emphasis on standardized testing. Fortunately, there seems to be some push back on the part of a few states.


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