Monday, February 25, 2013
So I'm a hypocrite about cursive handwriting. In our house, we require our sons - one in elementary school and one in middle school - to practice it weekly on homework assignments. We think it's good to know - that despite the predominance of communication by texts, tweets and emails, there's still a social expectation of script in some places. Potential employers still notice a handwritten thank you. More importantly, so do grandmothers.
Do I use cursive? Well, um, no. My handwriting, like many adults, is a hybrid of sorts - printed letters with the occasional flourish of a cursive loop tossed in. It's nothing close to what Mrs. Mackey taught me in 3rd grade, but it gets the job done, at least for the few notes I still write by hand.
Now, some N.C. lawmakers are trying to make cursive handwriting a required part of the curriculum in state elementary schools. Sponsors of the "Back to Basics" bill say it teaches children discipline, makes them more well-rounded and, according to Rep. Chris Malone of Wake County, "lends to our humanity."
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spokeswoman Stacy Sneed says the district teaches all students cursive starting in second grade. But in our sons' classrooms, busy with many other subjects, that "teaching" seems to have started and ended then. Each learned to write his name and the letters of the alphabet, but there's been no requirement to use cursive since. If not for their oppressive parents, they would have forgotten the skill by now.
Is it worth it? Educators say that cursive isn't just about writing, but reading. Children benefit from knowing how to read script in school (think Declaration of Independence) and will benefit later when they have to decipher a doctor's or coworker's note. As for the writing skill, there might be some advantages even beyond the employer-to-be or happy grandma. About 15 percent of the College Board's SAT test takers submit their essay answers in cursive, and those essays also happen to score higher. Is that because those students tend to be from higher-scoring private schools, where cursive is still taught, or is there a judging bias toward nicely handwritten essays? No answers there, but there's no question that, rightly or wrongly, elegant handwriting signals sophistication to people in a position to judge.
The question, for lawmakers and parents, is whether that's enough to require the skill from our elementary students. Given the inescapable march of keyboarded communication, it seems that cursive handwriting has transitioned from critical to complementary. If lawmakers are going to start micromanaging what our students must learn, let's require something really useful like, say, Spanish.
Photo: Teacher Cindy Kusilek works with her third-grade class at Franklin Academy Charter School in Wake Forest. Students there work 20 to 30 minutes a day on cursive handwriting. Photo by Robert Willett, News & Observer.
- Peter St. Onge
Posted by The Observer Editorial Board at 12:05 PM