Cursive at a Crossroads

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The art of cursive handwriting is at a crossroads. Touch-typing on a computer keyboard has replaced hand-writing on a sheet of paper so fully that the Indiana Department of Education, in a memo to the state’s elementary school principals (April 25, 2011), has officially canceled cursive writing from the state curriculum, replacing it with keyboarding.

Some educators have been calling for the end of handwriting for years. But handwriting is not an antediluvian method of communication to be tossed aside in favor of e-learning, reports the Los Angeles Times (June 15, 2011). The motion of writing out letters and words and sentences by hand stimulates the brain in a way that keyboarding does not. Perhaps it is not so different than the way reading a book activates the brain differently than hearing the same information or watching it on a television screen. None of this is to say that computers and TV can’t be educational, but the tactile, memory-creating relationship between you and your language lessens once the re-creation of the letters by your own hand is taken out of the equation.

Like math class, the brain-taxing work of penmanship is not simply about its practical application in daily life, Jason Wire reminds us (Matador, July 8, 2011):

I get it. We type more often than we write nowadays. But I also use calculators more often than I long-divide, and I’ve never once used the slope formula in my everyday life. In high school I loathed calculus, seeing it as pointless and irrelevant, until I realized math class is more about exercising the brain than ensuring life-long memories of equations. Why is cursive handwriting not seen the same way?

It bears mentioning that a child who never learns to write cursive will also never learn to read cursive. The neglected art has already created a generation of schoolchildren, from third graders on up through high schoolers, to whom cursive is a foreign alphabet. Claudette Sandecki met the written language barrier head-on (Terrace Standard, July 6, 2011):

Replying to my posted letter written in the cursive style I was taught 70 years ago, a teenager told me bluntly, “I can’t read your handwriting. Type.”

…[A] teen said she leafed through her grandmother’s journal shortly after she died, but could barely read her cursive handwriting. “It was kind of cryptic, like code.”

Is it flimsy nostalgia that makes me want the next generation to be able to read a historic text or a card from their grandpa? I think not. I think, rather, that it’s wildly practical to maintain cursive in the classroom and not turn handwritten documents into indecipherable codes.

And we needn’t fear that classroom time on penmanship will have a luddite effect on our children. The Zaner-Bloser Company, venerable publisher of handwriting lesson plans, has revitalized its handwriting curriculum for the modern era, including interactive whiteboard-ready digital resources that allow students to handwrite letters on a touch screen.

Source: Los Angeles Times, Matador, Terrace Standard

Image by EraPhernalia Vintage, licensed under Creative Commons.

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