Education · Handwriting

The Cursive Handwriting Debate is Not Over—Not Yet!

ballpointpen_(1)_360_360_90Yesterday I received two handwritten missives in my mail, both written in cursive. One was from my doctor, explaining the results of recent routine blood tests and wishing me a pleasant weekend. The other, a brief and lovely message from a friend who recently visited, thanking me for a pleasant time.

And not too long ago, I had a lively conversation with a stranger on the bus who happened to notice I was doing some editing with a fountain pen. He allowed that he loved writing with fountain pens, in fact collected them. I was sorry when we came to his stop.

Personal experience aside— it seems to me that resistance to abandoning the teaching of cursive handwriting is growing.

Some teachers say that in this technological era, being able to write in cursive is an unnecessary skill.  What kids are going to need in the future is skill in keyboarding, and they don’t have time to spend on teaching both handwriting and keyboarding. That’s the good reason they give for their opposition. I suspect the real reason is that the better kids are at keyboarding, the better they will do on the tests that are mandated by the common core. In some school districts, children as young as eight years old have to be able to drag and drop and type answers on a keyboard so that they can take tests mandated by the core—tests that as far as I can see benefit no one except the those involved in the test industry. Certainly they don’t benefit the third grader who has squirmed and struggled answering questions that are widely seen as too difficult.

Another real reason is that many teachers themselves do not write in cursive and so feel unable to teach it.

Unfortunately proponents do not put forth very strong arguments. One of their favorites is that if kids can’t read cursive, they won’t be able to read our founding documents. Who in the world reads founding documents in the original copperplate? Have you ever? Neither have I; neither have those making this argument. If that were the primary reason kids need to learn to write cursive, proponents of teaching it would lose hands down.

The strongest arguments for teaching of cursive comes from neurological research. And these are powerful arguments. Pity they are not advanced more often.

 

Handwriting

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?