In the Dark Ages when I began teaching, I remember seeing lines of connected script flowing across students’ papers. My, how things have changed! Today, even my honors ninth grade students sometimes confess to me that they cannot even read cursive writing, let alone produce it. This presents a logistical nightmare for today’s students who are required to study original documents such as the Declaration of Independence, diaries, and journal entries–all written in cursive– that the new curricula emphasize, whether it be Common Core, or my own state’s TNReady. Once again, we see proof that common sense does not dominate in education policy. It was not until 2014 that Tennessee legislators passed a bill requiring the teaching of cursive writing.
This has caused me to speculate about why exactly cursive was abandoned in the first place. In my quest, I considered and abandoned several theories, finally settling on the one that made at least as much sense as any other. Perhaps it is the expense of the technology-heavy cursive writing program… Wait, that makes no sense. Penmanship is one of the least materials-heavy parts of the curriculum. Could it then be that cursive was deemed unnecessary in an electronic world? Of course, not. Students still need to communicate via pen and paper in schools across the nation and read documents produced in cursive. In fact, research shows that a focus on penmanship, and especially cursive aids in cognitive development. An article posted on the Psychology Today website “Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter” by William Klemm, Ph.D notes, “Cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual, and tactile information, and fine motor dexterity.” Read the entire article at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/why-writing-hand-could-make-you-smarter.
I have noticed a marked decline in spelling skills related to homophones as students write less in cursive. It is my own belief that as students turn exclusively to printing, they begin to write collections of letters, rather than words. For example, for me the words their and there are simply impossible to confuse when writing because, regardless of their sound, they are completely different words. When I point out a homophone misspelling to a student, I invariably get, “Oh, yeah,” and a quick correction as a response. These students know how to spell the words, but represented by a collection of separate letters, such words present a challenge.
So, why eliminate cursive from the curriculum? Finally, my epiphany arrived: It is a simple misunderstanding. As parents become less involved in schools, their reactions are less based on fact, and more on fear. Take as proof parents who seek to ban the reading of a book they, themselves, have no knowledge of. If we look at cursive through this lens, the answer is clear. It is curse-ive writing. And no one wants students cursing in school. Parents are perplexed by the language their children use at home, and struggling to find an explanation, they hear that schools teach curse-ive. A closer analysis would demonstrate the flaw in this reasoning, but since when have those seeking to remove legitimate educational materials from the classroom for personal reasons turned to logic? As an example, note that To Kill a Mockingbird consistently ranks near the top of the American Library Association’s list of 100 most frequently banned books. Ignoring the book’s anti-racist message, many have, instead, sought to have it removed for “language” or “themes.” Check out the lists by year at the ALA site. http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10.
If cursive were actually the teaching of cursing, it would, indeed, be an indictment of the American school system. As a high school teacher, I hear students practice their cursing skills, and they are not very accomplished. The cursing of the average high school student is uncreative, repetitive, wordy, and rarely gets the point across. If I were to grade it like a writing assignment, very few would even rise to the Average designation of a C, and certainly, none would merit the Outstanding mark of an A.
I, for one, am glad that cursive has been added back as an essential part of the Tennessee curriculum; I just hope that schools have and take the time to implement it effectively.
Do you still communicate via cursive writing? Can your children?