Thursday, October 06, 2011

Teaching cursive: Antiquated or still appropriate?

(I am my own guest blogger today!  I posted this entry on my professional blog and decided to cross-post occasionally.  If you’re an educator, a media producer, or just interested in educational media, I’d love to have you follow my blog at Sandcastle Educational Consulting.  And you can sign up to be my best friend right here.) 

When I was in elementary school, third grade ushered in two significant events. One was that recesses would now be spent in the Big Girls’ or the Big Boys’ yard instead of the Little Kids yard. (Just when we started to be interested in each other, they separated us!) The other was that we’d be learning cursive. This was a significant milestone, as it indicated that we were almost adults (in my mind) and that we would soon be placing our pen on the paper at the beginning of the light blue line and pick it up only at the end of words or lines, as opposed to at the end of each letter. Something about that said mature, sophisticated, and almost ready for the career world. Clearly, I was in too much of a hurry.

When my kids were in third grade around the mid-90’s, they learned keyboarding. By the end of the year they were doing what I still haven’t learned to do: type quickly without looking at the keyboard. These days they are all lightning fast keyboarders, as are all their friends. And it’s no wonder, since the vast majority of their communication is done via a keyboard – on their laptops and on their phones.

The discussion about learning cursive came up at the dinner table a few days ago. We were all marveling about their 86-year-old Nana’s impeccable, flowing penmanship. When she was in elementary school in the 30’s, penmanship was a major curriculum area and students practiced cursive for an hour a day, writing flawless sentences, comprised of flawless, perfectly formed letters.

cursive green

Nana is very proud of her perfect handwriting – as she should be. We all marvel over the art that graces the front of the envelopes and the cards she faithfully sends each grandchild on their birthdays.

But Peter, 24, suggests that cursive might as well be considered an art form of yesterday: “I don’t think one language should have multiple letter sets!” he insisted. Not one to sugar coat anything, he continued. “I just find cursive obnoxious. I have a hard time reading it and it’s antiquated and unneeded. We might as well start using well and quills again!” His siblings fully agreed and their father and I admitted that we hadn’t written in cursive in many, many years -- though we. like their grandmother, learned it in school and were “forced to” practice cursive. (My husband’s words; personally, I enjoyed handwriting lessons…)

I was surprised to read the comments following this article, entitled “In the Digital Are, Is Teaching Cursive Relevant?” on the PBS website. I would have thought that readers would be in Peter’s camp, but no! Quite a few readers believe that cursive is still relevant and should still be taught in elementary school.

What do you think? Is teaching cursive in elementary school antiquated or still appropriate?

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Michelle said...

It depends on if the teachers all agree to do it in 3 grade and what the upper grades teachers are going to require at the elementary level. Some teachers say u can do both. Some teachers that is all they want u to do in 4, 5 & 6 grade. Middle and High school do not mind as mcuh. U would have to have a meeting with the upper grade teachers and talk about it as a group.

Anon said...

Makes me want to write Peter a long, long, very long letter in beautiful cursive. He can answer it in hand-cramping printing.

I challenge the necessity of keeping the stupid QWERTY keyboard. It was developed over a century ago, specifically to SLOW us down. Why are we still using it? Get us a better, more efficient, more intuitive keyboard layout, and I might seriously consider dropping cursive.

jennifer said...

I still use my cursive the way my mother used shorthand: taking notes in meetings, in class, etc. Of course lots of people take their notes on their laptops, and I'm a fast keyboardist so I can do that too. It's just easier to take notes on paper so I can draw arrows and make side notes in the margin when I think of something, etc.

I think people need to know how to sign their own names, so perhaps it still needs to be taught, but maybe not emphasized so much to be actually readable?

jennifer said...

And to Anon's point about the more efficient keyboard, it is true that we could have a much more intuitive and faster standard. But the next generation would have to learn it while the old QWERTY stuck around for a while, for the benefit of those who have QWERTY branded into their brains. I think learning to type as fast on a non-QWERTY keyboard would be impossible for me at this point! That's what happens when you try to switch a standard, there has to be a long phase in/out period.

Maria said...

I can see Peter's point, as I almost never take notes with pen/paper any more, and when I do, they are a quick summary of important tasks or an important idea. Sure, cursive CAN BE pretty and all that, but for the most part, it all looks like chicken scratch to me. Additionally, it seems logical to me that a male would find cursive more difficult, as many of them struggle with fine motor skills as a whole (my son included!).

Goofball said...

I'm confused...I have to look up what you mean by cursive

it seems to me that what you call "cursive" is handwriting to me. Do you really only learn that in grade 3?? huh, so what do you do in grade 1 and 2?

I find the whole thought that we should focus on devices more and more and that handwriting becomes less important. So yeah there's an obvious shift that needs to be reflected in education. But can you really be without handwriting? I guess not. So what is the alternative to 'cursive'. Printing your letters all seperately. That takes way more time & effort and is not writing to me. that's what they do in kindergarden here at the age of 3-4. Nobody can seriously think that's the only thing kids would learn anymore, can they?

so in the end I don't truly understand the discussion and the options

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