A tweet by Chris Kennedy pushed me to write a post that has been sitting in my Evernote drafts for a long time so I thought today was a good time to write.
As we have continuously move forward in schools, the question of how much should we teach cursive handwriting in schools has come up. I truly believe that literacy and numeracy are the basis of strong learning in schools, yet I have questioned the amount of time we should spend on teaching how to cursive write.
One thing that I do truly believe though is that students NEED to be able to read cursive writing; this is essential. This is a lot of material out in the world that is in this form and our students need to be able to comprehend what they are learning. Yet as we grow into adults, most people have their own “version” of cursive writing. For most of us, our letters are nowhere near as formed as they were in grade three, and for myself, I use a hybrid of printing and writing for when I write cards. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that as I have used technology more, my printing/handwriting is not what it once was. Is it legible? Absolutely. Is it pretty? Nope.
Many would argue that cursive is an essential skill as the increased speed is beneficial to our students:
You might argue that printing works just as well during exams and for taking notes in class… if you can print what is the purpose of cursive? The answer is that when time is limited, cursive writing is quicker and more fluid because the pen doesn’t leave the page as much as with printing, and there are fewer stops and starts. This means that you can write more during an exam, or take down more of what the teacher said during class. (Oxford Learning » Is Handwriting Irrelevant?)
The argument to this is that if we have a keyboard in front of us, the speed of typing will essentially be a lot quicker than cursive handwriting. In my position, I use cursive for two things: writing cards and signing cheques. I am also guessing that many writers use a keyboard instead of cursive handwriting, and their job is WRITING!
Reading a comment from Kate Gladstone in a Ning, one of her comments really stuck out to me:
The more education a child had been allowed to have before his/her handwriting was changed over to cursive — in other words, the fewer months and years s/he had spent learning/using cursive — the larger his or her vocabulary was (as measured by the number of different words used in the student’s writing over the course of a year). The differences were huge — the kids who’d been required to do the least cursive had vocabularies THREE TIMES the size of those who’d been required to do the most cursive.
From this, for some reason, the researchers decided that the second half of 3rd grade was a great time to change everyone’s writing to cursive (which, as the researchers pointed out, basically means putting all other aspects of written English on hold in order to go back to scratch and start all over again with the ABC.) An even more logical next step, though, would be to wonder why any age-group at all should be required to spend time on what amounted to an exercise in vocabulary-stunting (not that cursive in itself is bad for your vocabulary but you’re unlikely to increase your vocabulary while that and other things have been put on hold for the sake of changing your handwriting style. The fact that the vocabulary-stunting effect was worst for those who’d been changed to cursive the earliest can — as the researchers noted — be at least partly explained by the fact that any educational damage has worse effects when imposed on younger, more impressionable, more ignorant students.
So my question is, if we are spending time learning to write cursive, what are we taking away from? Vocabulary? Other forms of communication?
As I thought about this question, two other questions popped out in my head:
Which profession is known to have the worst handwriting?
Which profession do many consider to be the most intelligent?
Is yours the same answer?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this.