Minnesota Schools Debate Teaching the “Lost Art” of Cursive Handwriting
I remember the anticipation that I felt as a second grade student at Monte Vista Elementary School in Phoenix, AZ. Next year would be the year. Finally, like all of the Big Kids on the playground, I, too, would be learning cursive handwriting – D’Nealian cursive to be exact. It’s over twenty years later and I still remember the form of cursive that I learned, it was that big of a deal. Now, schools in the state of Minnesota are debating the worth of teaching cursive handwriting in their early education programs at all. In a world filled with electronic communication media and compositions written on keyboards alone, the justifications for taking precious instructional time away from students in order to focus on this “lost art” is highly questionable. Cursive’s Downhill Trajectory The state of Minnesota, like many others, is engaging in this debate as it moves towards the implementation of the common core English standards in the 2012-2013 school year. This is a demanding group of national benchmarks that are aimed at helping to prepare America’s children for the future in both college and the workforce. Currently, the inclusion of any cursive handwriting in a school’s curriculum is optional. However, as the standards are raised, many schools teaching cursive handwriting may have to stop in order to focus on more important core skills. Since cursive handwriting is no longer considered an important skill, schools may feel the need to focus more on communication as a whole, emphasizing grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. Then there’s the long-term impact that cursive handwriting has in the world. With most communication taking place online through keyboard strokes rather than pen strokes, typing skills are much more essential. Many high school and college teachers, this one included, simply refuse to even accept handwritten assignments anymore. Computers are readily available and the readability of passages created through a word processor allows for an easier emphasis to be placed on correctness in communication. When reading a word processed essay, I can always tell the exact spelling of a word or a comma from a period. With the amount of structural errors I see in college level composition, I cannot disagree with the need for greater emphasis on other areas of communication skills more suitable for the 21st century. The Importance of “Art” However, I am not convinced that the elimination of cursive handwriting as an instructional component of early education can accomplish this. As Diane Zanter, a Minnesota third grade teacher explains, each year “[the students] are so excited; they love to learn [cursive].” To many, myself included, learning cursive handwriting is seen as a rite of passage. The inability to participate in that rite may have many students feeling left out of a “special element” of becoming and educated individual. Indeed, historically, the ability to write in cursive was seen as a mark of the educated. What’s more, the use of the swirls and connections of letters in cursive handwriting has a direct link to artistic expression. Writing in cursive is often “faster” than writing in print and at times when a computer is not available, the ability to keep up to one’s thoughts with a pen could prove essential. Finally, the use of cursive handwriting, though fast becoming obsolete, can improve the ability of students to think. Research has consistently shown that different neural pathways are involved when writing by hand versus on a computer. Think about it: on a computer, you engage both hands, both sides of the brain, whereas when writing in print you only engage one side (the dominant side). For people like me, the lefties of the world ruled more by the “creative” right brain, there is a clear artistic element engaged in the act of writing by hand, and, in fact, I cannot write creatively on a computer as well as I do on paper. Is Cursive Necessary? The arguments for both sides of this issue are quite extensive and valid. Even I have a hard time standing too firmly on one side of this debate. I can see the benefits of focusing on communication skills wholly, but at the same time I mourn the immense artistic loss of cursive handwriting. As my own children slowly creep towards cursive-learning age, I find myself intensely hoping that they will get to learn it, though. However, they have an English teacher for a mom, so grammar can be reinforced at home. How do you all feel? In this day and age, is cursive necessary?