Friday, January 02, 2009

The Cursive Curse

Is there anything lovelier than a beautifully written missive? How often have you seen a letter or note and thought "wow, what pretty handwriting?" On the flipside, I'm sure you've also read something and wondered if it was written by a human or a chicken.

Cursive runs the gamut. When I was a kid it was a required skill taught in the third grade. Now it isn't. I discovered this last year when my daughter was in third grade. I couldn't believe she wasn't being taught cursive and I found out it was no longer a standard.

How necessary is it that she learns? This post doesn't think it is. As a mother, she writes about the struggles her son is having with cursive. She discusses the difficulties the issue has created within her home and with her son's learning. From the number of comments to the post, you can see how hot this issue is. I read through some of the comments and many people brought up excellent points. Handwriting is fine motor skill, a way of developing our brains. Cursive is a lost art falling victim to our glorification of technology.

I hate cursive. Like the woman's son in the article, I also suffered through penmanship and remember my mother having to meet with the teacher because of it. My printing isn't great either but it isn't illegible. My cursive is unreadable and I can honestly say I haven't used it since jr. high. The only "cursive" I use is when I sign things. Once I learned to type in high school, I almost never write on paper.

Newsweek offers an article citing why it is important that our children learn handwriting. My son learned cursive in 3rd grade and I can honestly say I've never seen him use it. He prints and he types. Since he has entered jr. high, he is typing even more. He communicates better when he types.

I'm not saying handwriting is obsolete and shouldn't be taught. Certainly it is essential our kids learn "manuscript" writing, being able to communicate with pencil and paper is beyond importance. But fine penmanship is not a crucial skill. Being able to write legiblly is. But so is knowing proper grammar and spelling. If a child is struggling to form letters properly, how focused are they on content?

English professor Dennis Baron thinks the emphasis on handwriting is not preparing children to be actual writers. He brings up the point that good penmanship was a necessity back in the old days for business, but now speed is far more important. He also discusses how his own students find themselves far more connected through their keyboard than they are with pencil and paper.

Some writers I know are more creative when they write long hand on paper. I'm not. I type faster than I write. Like the college professor's students, I find myself far more connected to my keyboard than with a piece of paper. I also started teaching myself to type when I was a freshman in high school, so I've been connected to a keyboard in one way or another for most of my life.

I understand the desire of people to keep handwriting alive in our society. There is pleasure in reading a well-written note penned in a beautiful hand. For many, there is a delight in handwriting, communicating their thoughts and ideas with sweeping florishes and dramatic loops. I admire beautiful handwriting the way I admire art. While I like the idea of giving our childdren the opportunity to learn cursive, I'm not so sure I think it should be given a whole lot of emphasis. In truth, I'd rather they learned to use a keyboard at an early age.

I'm sure much of my opinion is based on my own personal experiences with handwriting and the tortures of cursive. I have similar feelings about beef stroganoff and second year algebra.

So what do you think? Is cursive writing and penmanship a quaint yet obsolete talent or am I a techno-barbarian who is leading the way to the destruction of western civilization?

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