By Linda Corson
The United States is about to eliminate cursive writing from its teaching curriculum! If implemented, we will be taking an enormous gamble that cursive in today’s environment is obsolete. As of today, 40 states have adopted the Common Core curriculum which supposedly establishes the requisite skills necessary for mastery in college and career. This document ultimately phases out teaching cursive writing. Is the U.S. ahead or behind other countries who stress foundational skills like cursive handwriting to develop their leaders and workers? Is Common Core curriculum just another educational experiment like “The New Math” where mindless memorization of facts was deemed unnecessary and “Word Recognition” was a revolutionary method to replace phonics? The problem with this gamble is that once cursive is gone from our culture, it is not recoverable.
We may have already reached that point of no return. Elementary teaching graduates are not taught how to teach cursive in college, so when they get their first teaching assignment, many have no idea what to do. Students are telling their teachers they have to print the assignments on the chalkboard because “they can’t read cursive.” Many high school students have to ask their parents to read their teacher’s notes on their tests and compositions because “they don’t read cursive.”
Historians and political scholars often require greater insight into the birthing of our Republic. Original depictions of the drafting of the Constitution and the negotiation letters of Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton are often-used resources that were written using cursive. Some say we don’t need to read cursive; just find alternative transcriptions in print form. But when cursive is gone and only a few people can read it, we will be solely dependent on the select few to interpret the laws of our land.
Learning cursive writing helps children’s brain synapses develop, because it requires fluid movement, hand-eye coordination and fine motor development. But, the most important reason for learning cursive writing is to be able to READ cursive.
In 2006, only 15% of SAT takers used cursive on the written essay part of the test but, they averaged measurably higher scores. Why? It was because they had been made to stretch their total learning range of skills the other 85% had not been required to learn or no longer used. They were better note takers; they could write faster and could organize their thoughts on the fly.
Patrick O’Neill, assistant principal of academics at St Francis High School in Sacramento said cursive is a necessary skill. “If our students can’t read cursive there will be parts of the world they will not be able to access. Students must be able to access all forms of communication available today.”
A hole will exist in the student’s total learning spectrum by neglecting to teach cursive. Primary grade-aged children have an enormous capacity to absorb new skills. It is important to teach cursive when children have the most time and desire. In this day and age they still consider cursive a “rite of passage” and are as excited as ever to learn it. My class used to beg me to teach it on their first day in third grade. That window of opportunity closes quickly, as more demanding curriculum is introduced and their maturing interests expand. Why not teach cursive when the investment of time for the teacher and student is so small, usually ten minutes a day for 56 days? No expensive workbooks or worksheets, just one teacher’s manual, a pencil, lined paper and a kid.
The richness of our culture is being diminished by the disappearance of the handwritten word. Whether you are a historian or grandmother, the poignancy of the written word cannot be denied. Many cherished recipes by mothers and grandmothers or letters from home to lonely service men are saved, read and reread. How many times have you looked at a letter or note from a deceased loved one? Grandmothers have saved and treasured every “Thank you” note written to them over the years by their grandchildren. It is a wonderful record of their growth. Often, it is the handwritten letter offering words of encouragement that becomes your special voice. We should take pride in taking the time to sit down and hand write a letter to friends and family. It demonstrates to them we care and our relationship is meaningful.
On a more mundane level, can your 16-year-olds write a cursive signature? Many states require a cursive signature on their driver’s license application. How do you sign and endorse checks without a signature? The clunky, longhand scratchings of today’s cursive-illiterate person can be much more vulnerable to forgery.
If you need to relay information immediately and have just a half second to grab anything, maybe a napkin, cursive is dependable. It doesn’t rely on batteries or A/C current. It’s like breathing; it’s always with you and you won’t shut down or crash.
One of my clever third graders once told me that since he now knows how to write in cursive, he knows how to read it — even his older sister’s diary.
About the author:
Linda Corson taught elementary education for 36 years in the public schools system. She recently authored a scripted teacher’s text on teaching cursive writing for new or reentry teachers and homeschool parents.
Linda L Corson Teaching Cursive, This Method Works!