Thursday, July 14, 2011

Give Up on Cursive?

No, no, no, no.

According to this TIME NewsFeed article,
That age-old writing method you might never have used since fourth grade will no longer be taught in Indiana schools come fall, thanks to a memo from school officials. Instead, students will be expected to become proficient in keyboard use.
This piece, linked on Melissa Wiley's blog, got me thinking. I agree with her and with the educators who are responsible for this decision that keyboarding should be a core part of kids' education these days, but I think it's so wrong-headed to let go of cursive as obsolete. (Not that Ms. Wiley said that herself, exactly; and at least the schools will have the choice to teach it if they so decide.)

I'm no expert. I've wondered on my own if and when handwriting would become outmoded, and I've always come to the conclusion that handwriting as a skill is still invaluable. There are countless times when jotting something down on a piece of paper is so much more convenient, or effective, or meaningful. And handwriting is so personal.

Some may quibble with me that it's merely cursive that is being deemed irrelevant here, not handwriting itself. I may be wrong here, but I think that learning cursive contributes to greater fluency in handwriting. Cursive eliminates physical interruptions in writing; it is a more flowing exercise in penmanship than manuscript or block letters, allowing greater ease and speed when mastered. I mean, how fast can a person write in print? "I can print pretty fast," you might say. I would argue that nobody really stays with the form of cursive they're taught in school; instead they develop their own unique hand--and learning cursive influences that process even when the resulting hand resembles print more than cursive.

And by replacing cursive with keyboarding, they're saying that handwriting doesn't matter as much.

Talking with our homeschooling adviser and, more recently, reading this article have reinforced my opinion on handwriting. Our adviser thinks handwriting is so important she recommends that all of the kids start our school day with it. The article makes several points about things like fine motor skills, brain development and engagement, and memory aids. The one I relate to from experience is that handwriting improves composition.
Researchers who tested second-, fourth- and sixth-graders found that children compose essays more prolifically -- and faster -- when using a pen rather than a keyboard. In addition, fourth- and sixth-graders wrote more complete sentences when they used a pen, according to the study, led by Virginia Berninger, a University of Washington professor of educational psychology who studies normal writing development and writing disabilities.
Some caveats: Absolutely, I can type faster if I already have the words I need. I use this tool to break through writer's block, short-circuit an overactive self-editor, or cram a brainstorm of thoughts into existence. And keyboarding has huge advantages in editing a piece of writing once it's been drafted.

But I have long felt that I can think better when I'm just putting pen to paper and working out the words as I write--to the point that I'd rather scribble, circle, draw arrows while I'm getting down a first draft than drag and drop, cut and paste to organize my thoughts.

And you know what? Even without all of that, there is something about the individual script that I would mourn if it is forsaken. I give writer Margaret Shepherd the final word:
Your handwriting reveals you in a number of ways. The fact that you choose to write by hand at all shows that you are not afraid to give something of yourself to other people, and that you think some civilized forms of communication are worth extra effort.

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