Should We Let Cursive Die in Our Schools?

slide1Over the last several  years I’ve heard about many elementary schools eliminating cursive from their curriculum. I know, we are living in a technology-driven world in which many will argue that cursive is obsolete. But is it?

There will always be students who learn cursive, regardless of whether or not it is readily used. Parents will teach their children, there will be homeschooling parents who integrate it into their own curriculum, and there will still be schools, that, regardless of whether or not they are required to teach it, will choose to. The bottom line is that unfortunately, many schools are forced to teach to the test.

What is taught in the classroom is driven by what the students will be tested on, and because students don’t need to know cursive to pass their state exams, teaching cursive isn’t a national requirement. That’s a problem.

As a society, we’re so focused on the end product or final result. We’re obsessed with convenience and easy way out. How many students today still have home ec or wood shop? Like cursive, their existence has quickly diminished: they take up time in school, and the end product (a home cooked meal, a mended article of clothing, or piece of home furnishing) can be easily paid for. Even if students do not grow up to regularly use these skills, learning them develops confidence and an appreciation for skill and craft, fosters creativity, good work ethic, independence, and pride. It teaches students that there is a value in learning something, even if just for the sake of learning something new. And it’s good for their brains. What are we teaching students by only asking them to learn something that they will be tested on?

As a teacher who has taught cursive, I find tremendous value in teaching this seemingly archaic skill.

Here are four examples from my own experience of why it should not be left for dead.

The Student with Weak Fine Motor Skills

One of my students, a boy, struggled immensely with his fine motor skills. Handwriting was physically difficult for him. He dreaded the thought of learning cursive, which he was certain would be even more laborious and than print. Instead, he was in for a pleasant surprise. Cursive was not only easier for him, but his handwriting became more legible. And he enjoyed it. Having a swift and constant flow without having to repeatedly lift up his pencil made things a whole lot easier. This wasn’t the case for every student, but it made a difference for this little boy.

The Artist

Cursive is a form of art. If you don’t believe me, ask my 8 year old student who insisted that she had found a new way to express herself through incorporating cursive letters into her artwork.

The Historian

Over a school vacation, one of my third graders went with his family to Washington, DC. When the student returned, he couldn’t stop raving about his trip and all of the sites. The highlight of it all? When he exclaimed, “I learned cursive just in time to read some old letters in the museums and a little bit of the Constitution!” Priceless.

The Traveler

Another student was preparing to travel for the summer and had just gotten her passport. She was thrilled to be able to sign her name without assistance, and so proud to be able to show off her new skill to her family.

When I taught cursive, students completed a writing assignment to assess their cursive ability when they felt they had mastered the skill. They were then presented with a personalized cursive license. The license resembled a driver’s license and had the student’s name, picture, and signature, and it acknowleged that the student had passed the cursive assessment and was proficient in the skill. It was printed and laminated. Many students put the license in their wallets, proudly displaying it alongside their bus pass or Metro Card. It was like a third grade rite of passage.

There will alway be shortcuts. The student with weak fine motor skills would eventually be using a computer. The student artist could have found dozens of attractive and artistic fonts to incorporate into her artwork. The student who went to DC could have probably Googled the same documents to read online. And the student who proudly signed her name on her passport could have learned how to just write the letters necessary for her signature. Still, it’s not the same. Cursive is a skill that invites opportunity. It allows a connection to the past, whether it’s reading the original historical documents in a museum, or reading my grandmother’s handwritten recipes and my father’s letters home from when he was a teenager in the army. Learning cursive engages students in a learning process, and gives them a sense of accomplishment. It is an invitation into a world in which they feel exclusive, as if they have learned a new language. It gives them another method of communication. For some students, learning this skill is a confidence booster and adds a dimension to an already existing hobby. Sure, there will be students who will never form another cursive letter again after they’ve learned it. Fine. At least they know how. If nothing else, they have the choice of whether or not to use it, and the ability to read it.

What are your thoughts on eliminating cursive from our schools? Is it archaic and irrelevant to our children’s lives, or does it still have a place?

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