Cursive!… Foiled again!

Among the seemingly perennial issues in education, there is a resurgence in the concern over no longer teaching handwriting (i.e.cursive English). Given that education is one of those paradoxical institutions that on the one hand has as its aim to prepare for the future, it is also, more often than not, conserving the past. The present state of education is one that generally feels like it is behind the present moment in the rest of our culture. K-12 education tends to play catch-up, rather than lead the culture. As schools across the country are debating and implementing the new Common Core Standards, many teachers have suggested that something’s got to go, and that something will be handwriting, as keyboarding has more  cultural relevance.

Many lament the notion that students may no longer learn cursive. For some, it is a cultural  loss for the next generation(s). In some scientific and educational communities, some point to studies suggesting an academic advantage for elementary students who learn cursive over those who don’t. Is learning cursive a necessity today?

With limited time and money,and mandated testing, many teachers have suggested dropping handwriting lessons from the curriculum. Certainly keyboarding is a necessity in everyday life in ways that handwriting is no longer requisite. Of course there are people who never mastered penmanship and were/are quite intelligent and high achieving. Physicians are not the only ones who can’t write a legible script in script. For those  who are dysgraphic, or perhaps less severely, just not good at handwriting, keyboarding is a gift, and can transform their written communication and ability to achieve. However, one of the more interesting arguments for teaching cursive, is that in practicing the smooth movements connecting letters, mental connections are also made, that are not replicated in keyboarding. The argument continues that even learning to read cursive writing advances certain mental capacities for making connections, as we see and interpret connected symbols.

What may have begun as picking up a twig or a rock and etching symbols in dirt or on caves, progressed into handwriting. With the quill and ink, cursive became more developed as the writing method was employed to limit spills and breakage. Of course, in our age, the keyboard is the most expedient form of non-vocal communication. The most obvious sacrifice in abandoning learning cursive is the individuality–the signature.Even learning the uniformity of the cursive alphabet, handwriting is a uniquely individual enterprise. It can be honed, but handwriting is still not quite anonymous. It’s personalized.

Many cling to teaching handwriting as part of a cultural heritage. Some regard penmanship as an art form. Others tout the importance of fine motor skill development as well as it’s connection to brain development. The detractors focus on the imperative of teaching the most necessary skills for the moment, and handwriting seems like a cultural remnant–irrelevant to the tasks of the future.

It seems to me that the arguments for and against teaching cursive are essentially from a tired script. Many debates in education seem to be either/or in nature. Teaching cursive is slow, and there are so many other things to test. But if teaching cursive can help develop both left and right hemispheres of the brain and their connectivity, then maybe we need to look at other ways to teach and practice writing script. We don’t need to teach cursive just because it was our script. Handwriting may never be used the way it was prior to this moment in history. However, like science, math, history, language, physical education and art, it is a way of seeing and doing that creates connections, and making connections is essential to creativity. Perhaps rethinking our script about teaching script as a remnant of the past, to a practice of creativity, makes handwriting the future.

2 thoughts on “Script

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