Things I Know 199 of 365: I won’t be mourning cursive’s passing

It was in second grade that Mrs. Kelly attempted to teach me to write in cursive. By some strange fluke, I was the only left-handed student in the class. I remember sitting at the back of the classroom filling in math worksheets while she led the rest of the class through complex curlicues and how to connect the capital H to the lower-case E.

Later, when Mrs. Kelly had finished the lesson for the others and they were diligently working, she would spend a couple minutes with me.

She made certain I had the basics, but I wouldn’t exactly call it differentiated instruction.

As a result, my handwriting has always endeavored to be, but never quite reached the status of, penmanship.

So, when I read this piece on Indiana’s decision to halt the mandated teaching of cursive in Hoosier schools and this impassioned piece from Vancouver mourning it’s death, I sat open-gobbed for a few moments.

I wasn’t alone.

A little bit of digging showed slews of comments wherever the story turned up. People are feeling some kind of way about Indiana’s decision.

I’d write, “Indiana’s decision to kill cursive,” by my handwriting took care of that long ago.

Because of that, I don’t write in cursive. When I take notes, it’s printed and shorthand and all over the page. It’s nothing that could be contained by the tri-lined paper of elementary school. When I return to it, though, to remind myself what I learned or heard, I know what I meant. If I need to share it, I type it. And, never, do I sit at the keyboard thinking how much better it would be if I were writing a cursive version of anything.

Doug Kennedy, quoted by Cincinnati’s WKRC 12, said. “When you’re born, someone signs your birth certificate. When you’re married, you have to sign your marriage license. When you die, someone’s going to sign your death certificate. All these things are important aspects of your life.”

Sure.

I’m with Kennedy. Those signatures happen.

But they didn’t always.

Did we think they would?

Without cursive, people won’t stop being born, getting married or dying. We’ll just signify it some other way.

Most commonly, those opposed to the optionalization (with no more cursive, it’s a world gone mad and anyone can make up words) question how these poor children will sign their names to documents as they grow older.

I don’t have any other answer to that question than, we’ll figure something out.

And that’ll be fine.

Language is an arbitrary, symbolic devise that moves to fit the needs and tools of the times and cultures in which it is being used.

I love calligraphy. It is an art I have all the more appreciation for because I do not practice it. When communicating, I want my medium to make my message as accessible as possible. Indiana has taken a step toward that objective.

Writing for The Vancouver Sun with a full-throated defense of cursive, Naomi Lakritz had this to say:

There’s one more crucial reason kids need to know how to write longhand.

As any teacher will attest, writing things down helps children remember. Typing at a keyboard does not. There is something about the act of writing that makes information stick.

Sure. It’s true.

We know having kids learn by teaching and doing are even better conduits to building the synaptic relays of memory, so maybe we can cut the lectures requiring them to take the notes Lakritz worries about and have them learn by doing – maybe in an art class.

I’m not worried children won’t be able to read cursive. I’m worried they won’t know how to read.

The two are related, but not interdependent.

8 thoughts on “Things I Know 199 of 365: I won’t be mourning cursive’s passing

  1. I completely agree. As a first grade teacher this is irrelevant to me now as I'm working on helping kids learn to print. However, as a fourth and fifth grade teacher I made a conscious decision not to teach cursive. There were so many more important things to spend our time on. I did write in cursive (even though I hate it) often so that my students were used to reading it, but I never required them to do so. People struggle with change and seem most comfortable if things are done the way they have always been done. I appreciate anyone who pushes us all to question why we do something.

  2. Yea to fellow lefties! BOO to the time consuming and irrelevant time-suck that is the teaching of cursive writing.

  3. Cursive handwriting will always exist as a craft and I'm not convinced it is dead. There is a great deal of profit to be made from handwriting curricula and people's misplaced nostalgia can be very powerful.However, it is also true that cursive handwriting is 1) useless and 2) a cause of a great many learning disabilities among young children who confuse “writing” with an ability to express one's self.I had teachers through the eighth grade torture me with cursive handwriting instruction and painful pointless practice. I can't write my wife's entire name in cursive and don't know some of the letters to this day. BFD!

  4. I also suspect that the “writing makes it stick” hypothesis is baloney (bologna) too.Given the choice between total passivity and writing something down, writing it down will surely be a tiny bit more effective if the goal is to memorize that which has been dictated.However, note-taking – despite Microsoft's product development to the contrary – represents an infinitesimal  and weak aspect of being educated.Writing information down so it may recalled later IS useful regardless of the technology used to record that information, but only if that information is accessible when needed.The puritans clutching cursive penmanship to their lace-covered bosom believe that education is the act of recalling facts dictated to you, not accessed by the most efficient technological strategy available. Their arguments would be better suited to influencing education policy in Colonial Williamsburg.

    • I think one of the reasons that some people are clinging to the belief that cursive should be taught is that they believe teaching penmanship is the same as teaching students how to develop a system of note taking that works for them on an individual basis. It's easier to teach everyone to write the same way than it is to coach them through developing a note taking process that will enable them to access and recall important information. Reflecting on my own schooling I don't recall ever being taught how to take notes, but I do recall being told that my penmanship was lousy.

  5. …YES…now with cursive writing out of the way we can spend more time preparing for the test! …so say Race to the Top Officials…Bill Gates…

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