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The Question of Cursive

Should the traditional form of writing remain in the curriculum of local schools?

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about teaching cursive in the schools.  Some parents and teachers believe that traditional cursive is an important part of students’ education while others feel that it is out of date and simply doesn’t have a place in today’s schools.

At the risk of offending many traditionalists including, I might add, my own mom, I have to admit that I, too, feel like cursive has run out of time in our education system. 

Now, I need to make clear that it’s not that I don’t value tradition or even that I don’t appreciate the beauty of cursive versus printing.  Yes, cursive is beautiful and, yes, at one time it was an important skill in society. 

Fact of the matter is, however, that in today’s society cursive simply doesn’t have much use. Technology has grown, priorities have changed and, much like the typewriter, cursive is rapidly being pushed completely out of the picture. 

When my son was in the third grade I, like many other moms, found myself struggling to remember the ins and out of cursive.  Aside from signing my name which usually amounts to nothing more than a few undecipherable scribbles, I had not attempted to use cursive since junior high school.

It didn’t take long to discover that, like his mother, my son has no real skill for making letters look pretty and third grade proved to be a very stressful school year.  Suddenly, spelling tests and sentences were required to be done in cursive and, what used to be one of his best subjects became pure torture. 

Homework took hours and consisted of countless “breaks” to rest both his hand and his head.  At the same time I noticed that his printing became worse and worse and all of his work became messier by the minute. There simply wasn’t a lot of happiness in our home that year.

Needless to say, he eventually came to terms with cursive and, yes, we did both survive the third grade.  So, after months of stress, did all of his hard work pay off?  Sad to say but, in the long run, it absolutely did not.

A few fourth grade assignments used cursive but, by the time he entered the fifth grade, it was never to be seen again. Now, a sixth grader, he hasn’t used cursive in a couple of years and I think it’s safe to say that he, like me, has forgotten all but the basics. Many assignments are done on his laptop and keyboarding is, perhaps, the most valuable skill he has.

Gone are the days when “letter writing” was considered a valuable and creative skill. Yes, communication is still important, but handwritten letters and notes have long since been replaced by emails and, yes, even text messages.

Do I completely agree that text messages are the right way to go? Probably not. But at the same time, I know that students need to keep up with technology and remain ahead of the curve at all times.

I’m a firm believer that students need to work hard and learn to face every challenge that comes their way but, in the case of cursive, I feel that the stress simply isn’t worth it. 

In a world rules by laptops, computer tablets and smart phones students need to spend their time mastering technology and preparing for the future not reliving the past.

Robert Hayes February 08, 2012 at 03:45 AM
A very thought-provoking article! I've got something to add.... When the Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Framework (http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/ela/0601.pdf) was published in 2001, here is what it said regarding cursive: "Grades 3-4: Write legibly in cursive, leaving spaces between letters in a word and between words in a sentence" (pg. 82). When the Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Framework (http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/ela/0311.pdf) was updated in 2011, here is what it said regarding cursive: "Grade 4 students: Write legibly by hand, using EITHER printing or cursive handwriting" (pg. 39). I'll look into the issue further and see if Wilmington has any plans to stop teaching cursive now that the state doesn't require us to do so. I'd like to learn more about the educational benefits of learning cursive before making my mind up, but I certainly share some of your practical concerns and questions.
Susan Russo Rogers February 08, 2012 at 05:58 PM
As a teacher and one who learned cursive in Gr. 2, I consider it an art form...something that speaks to the personality of an individual--something lacking in the formulaic fonts of word processing. I consider cursive writing no different than one's practice of selecting a special pair of earrings or cologne or necktie--the effort taken to show that something is still special and distinct. Everyone's cursive is different, though we were were all taught using similar techniques (the Catholic schools favored the Palmer method, while the public schools included Zaner-Bloser Reinhart or D'Nealian). Our tech-driven society has made cursive into a time-consuming task, reviled as useless or out-of-date, which I find sad, really. Cursive was prevalent in a time when people took the time to make honest, eye-to-eye communication rather than throwing snippets of information into texts, emails or Tweets.
Christine Berry MacKenzie February 09, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Thank you both for your input. Cursive certainly is a "hot button topic" these days and I'm glad that I opened the door for discussion on both sides of the issue. Every opinion is valuable and I love the perspective that each of you brings to to table .
Carin Bennett-Rizzo February 09, 2012 at 02:16 PM
I think it will be essential for children to learn how to sign their name. I suppose that can be done, without the extensive cursive lessons. It is also important to focus on the importance of legible printing and how the "written word", whether in cursive or hand printed, is still meaningful in an every increasingly technical world.
Kate Gladstone February 09, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Handwriting matters ... But does cursive matter? Research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive. They join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citation on request— and there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.) Reading cursive still matters -- this takes about 30 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it. Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don't take my word for this: talk to any attorney. Yours for better letters, Kate Gladstone — CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works Director, the World Handwriting Contest Co-Designer, BETTER LETTERS handwriting trainer app for iPhone/iPad http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

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