I hear the case made against teaching cursive writing, and it tells me this: My third-grade teacher, Miss Coleman, wasted my instructional time.
And heretofore I thought her to be a wonderful lady.
School reformers are saying cursive instruction is pointless because 21st century technology has made it irrelevant.
Understand: School reformers are always right. But I must point out that in this instance, the case they make is nearly a century and a half late.
The typewriter was invented in 1868. That technology which would quickly obviate the need for handwriting. Right, Miss Coleman?
So, why in 1961, almost 100 A.T. (after typerwriter) were we learning cursive?
Nine years after learning all that handwriting, I didn’t pull out a quill to write my college-admission essays. A blue portable Smith-Corona did my pleading for me.
Maybe it would be nice and quaint, say the school reformers, to continue teaching cursive, but what teacher has time? With all those school reforms to prosecute, that is.
Interesting, it is, that it’s teachers who say they’d prefer to make the time for it.
The fate of cursive instruction is in the balance because the Common Core standards, adopted by a host of states with federal backing, gives it thumbs down.
The Common Core is the latest effort to make children row as one in the learning regatta dominated by the Japanese, Germans and Chinese.
I’ll admit, the Common Core has some virtues. I like its cross-curricular approach to reading and writing. On the other hand, it also continues — indeed, accelerates — the troubling trend of making “workplace readiness” all that education is about.
Across a generation of school reforms, policymakers have shown an accute inability to know the difference between true education (that which elevates the human mind), and training (done with military recruits and spider monkeys alike through repetition and reprimand).
Lawmakers, many of whom had no buy-in to the concept of public education (their own children safely ensconced away from all that) set out to “fix” schools. The result: a tunnel-visioned emphasis on core subjects that, with standardized test scores attached, could be painted as promoting “excellence.”
Schools got the message: All that mattered was passing those state tests. Test-prep activities, scripted lesson plans and school ratings became fixations.
This gobbled up increasing time, causing some reformers to say students didn’t have time for extraneous matters like recess and physical education.
Now I look back to my third-grade classes in the early ’60s and wonder what Miss Coleman (who also sent us out for recess) was thinking. There she was teaching cursive instruction with sweeping arm motions, when we could have been calculating the missile trajectories of the Soviet arsenal bearing down on us.
I shouldn’t care about cursive. I generally print. However, a sadly resonant chord is struck when supporters of cursive instruction talk about it as an art form. It does more than convey thought on paper, they say. It develops aesthetic sensibilities, much like music and art, two other things some would jettison in the “accountability age.”
Actually, those who study such matters affirm that music and art make for better learners, even better math learners.
I might support ditching cursive instruction if the time saved actually went to something truly instructive and elevating for children — like becoming expert and enthusiastic about how our government works, or doesn’t. (“Class, today we will learn about the filibuster.”)
Since what is likely to replace handwriting instruction would be more of what already dulls down and crowds out real education, I say we keep teaching the art of cursive — yes, even in this, the age of typewriters with built-in TV screens.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.