New ways to write right, but not in cursive

The handwriting is on the wall: Cursive is going the way of the hieroglyphic.

The third-grade subject that more than a few adults would flunk if given the test today is disappearing from schools across the country; being pushed out by two seemingly indomitable forces: time and technology.

Future 8-year-olds all over the country are secretly doing the happy dance. And we suspect some teachers are, too.

In increasing numbers, school systems are dropping the teaching of cursive handwriting as a requirement for elementary school students. The Common Core of learning, the federal project to aid states in defining standards for a K-12 educational program, does not include cursive among its objectives. Though states are free to include it in their own standards, it will likely lose out to the exponentially expanding body of knowledge students must learn and the technology with which they must do it. 

In this day and age of technology, keyboards, tablets and high-speed learning, teaching cursive longhand seems like a quaint anachronism. Charming, but not quite worth the time and effort it takes. 

Let's face it: A legible printed answer on an exam has to beat a barely legible one written in cursive. And, of course, there's the increasing use of digital devices in and out of the classroom. Many exams are given and taken on computers and students frequently take notes on tablets or laptops.

There is some debatable research that indicates that learning cursive writing actually prompts the development of neural pathways in the brain, leading to improved thought process and written expression. Similar to benefits of learning a second language, but producing less dramatic results. However, the science is not conclusive and certainly not enough to serve as a bulwark against the forces competing for its class time. 

A world that is changing and shrinking at an ever-increasing rate is taxing our schools in new ways, demanding students not only know more, sooner, but also know more about how to apply that knowledge. There is more pressure than ever for schools to get beyond the gathering and mastering of information, on to developing the students' abilities to use that information in useful and dynamic ways. 

Given that daunting mission, it's not hard to see how learning cursive doesn't quite rise to the top of the list of indispensable skills.

Writing in cursive is a personal experience. Our signature, like our fingerprint, is part of our unique identity, personally, professionally and legally. What will become of our John Hancock? Will it be OK to sign legal documents with a printed signature, even though all those forms say "DO NOT PRINT"? 

And it is odd to consider the next generation might not be able to decipher the United States Constitution without translational assistance. Most of us who write cursive could at least give it a good shot. A bit sad, perhaps, but not a deal-breaker.

And finally, whose heart wouldn't flutter just bit more at receiving a love poem in longhand, no matter how awkward the verse or how imperfect the script?

A typewritten letter might convey the same sentiment, but it surely doesn't feel quite as sweet. 

Realistically, educators are making some tough decisions. And though we would like them to be able to do it all, moving ahead means they must leave some things behind.

Dropping cursive seems a reasonable choice, so long as the mandate to teach clear and intelligent written expression is retained. 

hmccarthy@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Noel Foss's picture

The future of handwriting:

Skip the middle/high school level and go straight to post-keyboard.
http://theoatmeal.com/blog/handwriting

Steve  Dosh's picture

Noel ? no0o•øºn ? uh . .

Noel ? no0o•øºn ? uh . . Digital ? LOL
0011 1101 0110 0110
^^ machine language ^^ i.e. a sixteen bit byte ( 16 )
" †o ? and b e y o n d " /s, Buzz Lightyear :D

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