Saturday, February 28, 2009

THE SLOW DEATH OF CURSIVE PENMANSHIP

A growing number of educators and parents are concerned with the issue of handwriting. When I was in school it was a foregone conclusion that all students beginning in third grade would learn cursive and subsequent teachers would require it. That is, until high school where I was allowed to keyboard my papers.

Historically, our letters were a part of our culture and beautiful handwriting was as important as the content of the document. Everyone handwrote their notes, documents and letters. Nowadays we have a new culture of email, texting, twittering and blogging. It is a time when very few bother to write letters by hand. Even those that use the United States Post Office for correspondence do so, most likely, by typing on a computer and printing it out on a desktop printer. We just don’t have the need for cursive today, anymore than my grandmother needed the horsedrawn buggy to get to town, thanks to Mr. Ford.

Speaking for myself, I have adopted a hybrid handwriting technique whereby I mix print and cursive, although most of my penmanship involves printing. I often use all upper case letters like an architect. I find it more pleasing to the eye and distinctive.

The essential question facing educators lies in teaching cursive in any form. Should we or shouldn’t we? For the most part, schools continue to teach cursive; however, my sixth-grade teaching friend says that most of his students cannot read cursive writing on the white board. This despite the fact that we continue to work on cursive in schools. Another friend who is a long-time master teacher states that her adult children never write in cursive.

Does the 21st century student need cursive writing? If so, can he or she simply be taught how to read it and not how to write it? They say that takes about 15 minutes depending on one’s age. Seeing how our world is increasingly technology-based, I personally see no reason to teaching cursive except that we always have and that’s really no reason at all.

Students can go to college, take notes using print, write legibly, send letters, hand write thank you notes, and live a perfectly healthy and successful life without ever writing a single piece of cursive. As far as I can tell (with the short amount of Internet research I did) there is no legal requirement to sign your name in cursive. So what’s the point? After all, isn’t the issue really about communication, rather than the format? Proper communication only requires legibility.

Why spend 30-minutes or more everyday practicing cursive, when I could be teaching children to think deeply about core subjects. Imagine the real learning that can be accomplished when we focus on the content and learning rather than on the proper slant to my writing. We could spend that time reading a book and connecting it to our lives. We could work on skills the students will actually use in life. We could complete one more science or mathematics lesson.

3 comments:

KateGladstone said...

Fat Jack -- Your "hybrid handwriting technique" may well boost speed along with appearance and legibility.

Recent research (quoted in Kitty Florey's SCRIPT AND SCRIBBLE) establishes that the fastest legible handwriters join only some letters (making just the easiest joins, skipping the rest) and tend to use print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive forms disagree.

As SCRIPT AND SCRIBBLE's sales continue, the above knowledge should provoke some deep soul-searching, and something like repentance, among the schoolteachers of America.

S., Michael said...

I am not totally convinced that penmanship doesn't say something about psychology. Subsequently, I am somehow less convinced that it doesn't actually have an effect on it.

Consider the psychology of cleaning your room. By de-cluttering your living-space, you can almost literally reorganize your thoughts - if not just superficially.

A distinct and aesthetic writing gives your thoughts tangible, unique shape. I wrote Handwritten Stuff last April, I think this was the gist:

" And most importantly, just as it was in the eighteenth century when the epistolary novel was gaining steam, in a world wherein the lines of ownership and legal rights are blurred by redundant law and digital distribution, a handwritten note is the one tangible scrap of your inner stuff. Discourse nerds might marr your scribble by showing you through your word-choice your deep-seated social influences - but fuckem: if not original, then its Authentic. Sharing inked scratch and spit is truer conversation than an instant message, and somehow safer to express what’s deep-down without fretting about your stammer and your hair."

Jack said...

Michael,

Are you arguing for cursive or for the art of handwriting in general? They are two different things.

I'm not sure I get the connection between the psychology of handwriting and school? Why do teachers or administers care what a child's handwriting tells us about the child? Are you suggesting that we can somehow use that information in an educational setting to better equip the child to live in the 21st Century? I've never considered such an idea.

I kinda see this whole thing as kin to the record. Most of us purchase music on CD or electronically. It is faster, better, cheaper and more portable. BUT, there are those who cling to the vinyl record for nostalgia's sake. I think that is cool, but don't suggest that we throw out the CDs and mp3s just for the coolness of it all. But for those who love vinyl, I say go for it.