Saturday, Dec 16, 2017
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Marilou Johanek

COMMENTARY

Teaching cursive writing should be a signature course

Whether cursive handwriting in schools should be retained or retired is not one of the great moral dilemmas of our time. But it is a generational issue receiving fresh attention in public education because of the new Common Core standards.

The standards don’t require instruction in cursive handwriting. Instead, the national standards, adopted by 43 states including Ohio, require mastery in the digital-heavy age with an emphasis on computer and keyboard skills.

One standard encourages students to “use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others.” Under Common Core, students should be able to “demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.”

But what if they have trouble signing their name on the dotted line? Learning cursive handwriting, a classroom staple for generations of students, is no longer a teaching priority.

State leaders who developed the national standards for public schools considered cursive a relic of the past. Communication is increasingly conducted on computers or smart phones.

Handwriting may be a nostalgic nod to a more genteel time. But it is no longer a relevant skill to be taught in 21st century courses.

The future is here, and it’s all about texting, touch-typing, or tapping on laptop keys. Who communicates with flowing, curly script anymore?

When was the last time you took pen to paper and expressed moving sentiments in beautiful swirling lines? If you don’t type your correspondence, chances are you use some hybrid combination of cursive and block letters.

So cursive is dead. Public schools can’t afford to waste limited time and resources on a lost art when performance standards are high and lesson plans are packed.

It’s hard to quarrel with that logic. But let’s try. Just because cursive, or longhand writing, isn’t mandated by Common Core doesn’t mean schools can’t teach it.

Ohio, like several other Common Core states, isn’t ready to cut cursive yet. The Ohio Board of Education isn’t prepared to pronounce the skill of joining letters with flowing strokes outdated.

Last February, the state board adopted a resolution in support of instruction in cursive writing. “Studies and research show instruction in cursive writing develops fine motor skills and improves literacy,” said state education leaders, emphasizing how important and beneficial the writing skill is to children.

I asked a few teacher friends about the value of continued instruction in handwriting. Their support was unanimous.

One said cursive is about more than learning the mechanics of proper penmanship. It’s about slowing down the thought process that typing can accelerate, said a second-grade teacher. The teacher explained: “Everyone’s handwriting is as different as the way we express ourselves.”

“You pay attention to what you’re doing and the words you’re choosing when you use that [cursive] format,” another teacher said.

“The computer is a remarkable invention,” wrote one instructor, “but, like the typewriter, it has not replaced the need to also express oneself with pen or pencil on paper.”

In Ohio, individual districts can decide whether to continue teaching the art of cursive writing, de-emphasize it, or drop it altogether. The ambivalence of the Common Core directives about cursive has produced a pushback to preserve the centuries-old handwriting heritage.

Lawmakers in some Common Core states have introduced various measures that would make cursive writing mandatory in schools. Students should learn, as generations past, to write with cursive eloquence.

More important, they should comprehend what others are communicating in cursive.They should be able to read handwritten expression honed throughout history in precise script.

They should appreciate the difference between a gracefully penned thank-you note sent in the mail and a “thx” texted on the fly. OK, maybe that’s too much to ask of millennials.

My darlings never will write anything in cursive if they can avoid it. They will text, tweet, post, FaceTime, or email.

The immediacy of their communications with peers, parents, and grandparents is grand. It enables a connectedness unheard of generations ago. Technology is racing ahead to keep people in touch.

But students should understand multiple tools of communicating. And their signature is one of them.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: mjohanek@theblade.com

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