Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Cursive Debate

I am going to address this here because it is a subject which evokes a plethora of emotions, opinions, and debates. People are passionate about cursive. My take on it may surprise a lot of people, considering I'm a pretty old-fashioned gal, who happens to love cursive, and uses it often in my graphic work (including the header for this site).

I do not believe cursive should still be taught as part of the core curriculum in public schools. I believe it should be an elective, offered to students who want to learn it, as well as for students who will be studying graphic art/design or history.

I'll give you a minute to digest the shock.


Ok... Please allow me to share my unpopular perspective on this. (Which must actually be popular as many schools have phased cursive out of the core curriculum.)

First, I will share my personal experience. I learned cursive in elementary school. (actually, I learned it from my mom and could sign my name when I was about three years old, but that's another subject.) I loved cursive, and used it often. However, whenever I had a project or report to do, it was required that it be done either via typewriter or neatly printed by hand in black pen. Cursive was not acceptable.

My boyfriend was a sailor in the U.S. Navy. I wrote to him daily; sometimes in cursive... sometimes printed.

As I aged, I developed terrible arthritis in my hands. Writing by hand has become painful and messy. I use the computer to write 95% of everything, including personal letters. I still write in cursive ocassionally, but often print. It's easier on my hands and easier for the reader to understand my less than lovely writing these days.

Let's jump ahead.... My twins who are now 30 years old learned cursive in elementary school. They were advanced students, who performed well in every subject, including writing. My son even won an award for a book he wrote in first grade! They both were more than proficient at cursive.  But... as soon as they learned cursive, they were instructed not to use it. Every homework, project, and report had to be neatly printed. It was MANDATORY to do most reports via computer, which was a challenge for us as we did not have one. We were instructed to visit the library and use theirs. And we did.  After years of not using cursive, my son has not retained his knowledge of cursive. Yes, he can still sign his name. He could before he entered kindergarten, and learned the rest of cursive.

My third child, also an advanced student, also learned cursive in elementary school. She too was more than proficient at the skill. She too was instructed to neatly print or use a computer. She too has forgotten the bulk of cursive for lack of use of it.

My fourth child learned cursive in school. It was very difficult for him. He has particular sensitivities and motor skill challenges that made cursive painful. The process of keeping hand to paper, without lifting caused him anxiety and discomfort.  This was a child who otherwise loved to write. He has a vivid imagination and was always writing stories. Needless to say, he stopped using cursive the second he could, and also has forgotten everything but his signature.

I should say, the three who forgot it can still read it. It's the formality of letter formation they no longer perform or remember.

I have taught child 5, and will teach child 6 cursive. We have time for electives, and I want them to have the same vague familiarity with it as their siblings if nothing else. I'm also artsy, so they learn calligraphy and embroidery as well.

My kids were my main reason for understanding why schools are backing away from teaching cursive as a core subject. These kids are smart. But they do not use cursive in today's world, thus they forget it.  So, my #1 reason is why precious valuable time teaching an entire generation something that only a minimum of students will ever use? Why teach them something in a system that then turns around and forbids them to use it?  My perspective is that we need to be focused on skills essential to the world this generation will live in. I am as sentimental as the next person, maybe moreso. But we need to let go of what is no longer essential in the modern world and workforce if our students of today are going to be successful in their world of tomorrow.

Herein lies a secondary debate... the pupose of public education. My own experience has proven to me that the opinions on this are vast and divided. There is no definitive answer. There is no "one size fits all" mission statement for the public school system in America. A woman with much more experience and professional insight did in depth research on this. You can find the results of Heather Wolpert-Gawron's research here: What is the Purpose of Public Education?
In summary, she categorized the findings into twenty generalized purposes. 
"1. Teach the skills for passionate advocacy
2. Prep the students for their future participation in our democratic process
3. Educate them with the skills to function in the future world
4. Grant equal opportunity and access to the same high-level of learning
5. Develop the skills to have options in life
6. Teach the love of exploration
7. Teach the awareness and maturity of self to be one’s own advocate later in life 
8. Create a civilized population
9. Prepare students to contribute to an ever-evolving society
10. Fill a student with a sense of service and belonging
11. Foster personal responsibility
12. Create critical thinkers
13. Develop the ability and confidence to question
14. Nurture the skills necessary to participate in the exchange of ideas
15. Develop students who function autonomously
16. Teach social skills
17. Give students the skills to compete globally
18. Create lifelong learners
19. Teach students what it takes to achieve their professional goals
And only one person used their 30 words to specifically to say:
20. Teach them reading, writing, and math."
only that last one could serve as an argument to keep cursive writing as a core subject to be taught in public schools, and even that is a stretch.  Regardless of the varied intentions people believe are the purposes of public education, cursive writing is not essential to meet any of them in today's world. 

It seems to me the #1 reason most people argue in favor of cursive continuing to be taught in schools is sentimental attachment. It was part of our generation's life, and thus, it should continue, despite the lack of use in the schools and in the real world. Sometimes, it's just time. It hurts. We loved it, didn't we? We still do! But, it's time.  Should we still teach calligraphy, needlepoint, and stone carving? That's just silly, isn't it? Hard as it is to swallow, cursive has gone the way of those beloved skills. They are now specialties, which garner the skilled professional a high stipend for their respected services. 

Here are some of the arguments I see in every debate about cursive:

1: How will they know how to sign their name?
A: As I have already pointed out, many children know how to sign their name before entering school, without the full knowledge of cursive writing skills.  In my hometown, it was the requirement of the children's library that a child could receive their library card when they could sign their name. My children all signed their names by 3 or 4 years old in order to get their card.  And my children can all sign their names, including the ones who forgot cursive. So, we'll still be able to place our good ol' "John Hancock" wherever it is needed.

What's more? Cursive is not required for a signature. Never was.

Another interesting note about the ability to use cursive to sign your own name... In November of 2016, we began the search to buy a new home. We contracted with a mortgage writer and a realtor. We dealt with dozens upon dozens of legal  and binding papers... all signed via digital signature on the computer. From November of 2016, until March of 2017 when we moved in, we were only required to sign in person twice, and one of those was at the closing.  It's a new world.  We may not like it. But it is a new world and a different way of doing things.

2: (My favorite) How is anyone going to read historical documents?
A: Seriously? First of all, when was the last time the average American was called in to an archeological dig or a historic museum to read a historical document for anyone?  If you were, then I am assuming that is your specialized career, and you would be trained with the special skills required, including cursive, old English, Native American dialects, etc.

Which brings me to languages. The majority of history documents are not written in English, certainly not modern English, so knowledge of cursive is not even going to scratch the surface of the expertise required to read those documents.

For those refering specifically to the Constitution and The Declaration of Independence, do you remember history class? We looked at photos of the actual documents. But we studied the contents as they were printed on the pages of our textbooks. And that was 50 years ago.

3: What if they need to read cursive at some point in their years of work?
A: I am 52 years old. I have been a waitress, a restaurant manager, an art teacher, a daycare provider, and a few other odd jobs. Never needed the skill of reading or writing cursive in any position.  My son is 30 years old. He has never needed to read or write cursive in any of his jobs.

Might the odd ocassion occur when something comes across someone's desk in cursive, and it would be helpful to be able to read it? Sure. But one thing  we do know for certain is that it is not the job of public education to predict a skill you may possibly need once in your entire adult life, then teach that in depth to every student in America. What if a letter comes through in Lithuanian? Greek? Somali? I can tell you if one came passed my desk in French I'd be in trouble, and I took SEVEN years of French in Middle and High School. What we don't use, we lose.

There will indeed be careers where knowing how to read and write cursive will be needed. I can think of history careers and graphic artists off the bat. Those professionals will still learn cursive as part of their specialized career education. In fact, anyone who is interested in learning cursive can do so at a moments notice by clicking onto youtube. Within moments, the motivated student will be scrolling away with pen and paper. The glory of the internet. You can teach yourself just about anything with a little help from some very skilled and talented people willing to share that knowledge for free.

4: Cursive improves hand/eye coordination and improves neural connections in the brain.
A: Yes, it sure does. No one will dispute the many benefits and beauties of cursive. But look up "how to improve hand/eye coordination" or "how to improve neural connections in the brain".  Cursive may well be listed on every site and in every book on the subject. It is one of very many exercises to implement in the pursuit of improving hand/eye coordination and neural connections in the brain.  Is it necessary for either? No.

Interestingly, I read about a dozen articles on this debate supporting cursive as a core subject in public schools. Half of the articles required rewording the same point multiple ways in order to increase the reasons from 4 to 15. Again, no one is arguing that cursive has its merits. Surely it does. No one is arguing that some careers will still require the skill. Kudos to those who learn traditional skills and make a killing creating graphics, signs, addressing formal invitations, etc. That is one of the greatest benefits of when a basic skill becomes outdated and is designated to the realm of an art. Those who keep it alive are well esteemed and well paid to perform and teach.  Some authors also seem to think all handwriting is being removed. It is only cursive. Journal writing is more prevelant than ever in our nation's primary grade education. Writing is a very important subject in modern classrooms.
Cursive is not the enemy. It is a lovely artistic skill with many benefits, and much merit in its beauty alone. I love cursive. I teach my children cursive because home school affords me the time to teach many unecessary skills for enjoyment and exposure alone.  I just believe that it is time to retire it as a core subject in order to make room for skills which are and/or will be essential to functioning in the world these young students will eventually live and work in. Regardless of what one believes is "the" purpose of public education, surely usefullness and current essential skill sets should be the focus of attaining those purposes. 

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