Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cutting Out the Cursive

Today, I read an article written by a mother who is concerned about the fact that some schools have decided to stop teaching cursive handwriting and replace it with keyboarding lessons. I don't think it's a big deal, but judging from this article and the majority of the responses that it received, lots of folks disagree with me.

There was an interesting point left by a commenter who wrote from the perspective of a left-handed person. I am also a lefty. I don't think most right-handed people understand how cursive writing is designed for them and not us. It is absolutely impossible for a left-handed writer to use the proper form and shape the letters properly in cursive. It's one of the reasons why, in my father's days as a schoolboy, children who were left-handed were often forced to write with their right-hand. Is the nostalgia that some feel about cursive writing really worth continuing this kind of abuse? I'd say no.

My mother-in-law has beautiful handwriting. I mean, she's the person that everyone comes to when they want a sign or poster created for an event. I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, so I've never been able to match her handwriting skills--I'm not even going to dwell on how ridiculous it is to expect students with mobility issues and other disabilities to attempt to excel in it. Anyway, I once asked her how she learned to write so beautifully and she told me about how she went to Catholic school as a child and the nuns would rap them across the fingers with a wooden ruler whenever they were caught writing with their pencil at the wrong angle. I was shocked!

It seems a little silly to say that a practice that's becoming increasingly outdated (i.e. changing your name when you marry) might be a good reason to hold on to another practice that's already almost completely outdated (i.e. writing in cursive). At one time, it was thought unnecessary to teach girls how to read. After all, teaching them to read would take away from what was considered really important to adults back then: learning how to make jam and darn their husband's socks, grind corn into meal that's just the right size for making griddlecakes, and make sure that every floorboard was properly scrubbed by hand at the end of the day.

At some point, technological advances made it possible for people to get through their day just fine without needing those particular skills. The same thing is happening now. Most teachers realize that cursive writing isn't really practical knowledge and doesn't matter as much as content in today's world. If an English teacher has to read and correct 30 term papers, they need those papers to be typed so that the class can move on to the next assignment in a timely manner.

Students today need to know a lot more than students did a long time ago. Nobody is going to graduate with honors and get into a good university by having great handwriting skills. I don't think that learning how to write in cursive is useless, because I don't think that any knowledge is useless. It's just not practical. If students want to learn it, then I think it's fine for schools to offer it as an elective, just as it's perfectly okay for schools to offer painting classes and embroidery classes as electives. However, we'd be doing them a grave injustice if we sacrificed those lessons that they need, but aren't receiving, just so that we can feel like the world hasn't changed to the point where much of what we learned is irrelevant.


Rootietoot said...

My 12 yr old is a lefty, and while he tried to write cursive, it's not pretty. Fortunately his teachers value legibility over...whatever...and are fine with him printing, and even prefer a longer piece of homework to be typed. It's a little bit difficult for me to understand, but only because I used to do calligraphy and love beautiful handwriting. In short, I agree with you on this. It's lovely, but not necessary.

KateGladstone said...

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.)

Reading cursive still matters -- this takes just 30 to 60 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
6-B Weis Road, Albany, NY 12208-1942 USA • telephone 518-482-6763