Monday, April 8, 2013

"X" Marks the Spot: When students can no longer write in cursive, how will they sign their names?

A recent article in The Washington Post describes the demise of cursive writing, noting that 45 states have removed instruction in cursive from the elementary school curriculum. According to the article, the anti-cursive trend began in the 1970s. That surprised me. 

What doesn't surprise me is that in many states cursive has been squeezed out of schools to make way for more test prep, and since cursive is not inherent in the CCSS, it has all but been removed from life support. 

That's too bad. 

When students no longer have the ability to write in cursive, they will no longer have the ability to sign their names. Just as Huck Finn made his "mark" with an "X," we are on our way to creating a generation of students who will have no option but to print their "signatures."

Why does this matter? 

Simply, a signature is an identifying mark, much like a fingerprint or eye scan. Although I'm not aware of specific research to support this contention, a signature is required on official documents because it's far more difficult to forge than printing one's name. 

Other reasons for keeping cursive in the curriculum exist: 

1. Knowing cursive benefits dyslexic students. Deborah Spear is an academic therapist in Great Falls, whose work with students learning cursive is described in the WP article: Cursive writing is an integral part of her work with students who have dyslexia. Because all letters in cursive start on a base line, and because the pen moves fluidly from left to right, cursive is easier to learn for dyslexic students who have trouble forming words correctly.

2. Learning cursive takes patience and perseverance, both skills necessary to learning difficult and complex tasks. Regardless of the increase in technology for communication, eliminating cursive removes an important critical thinking skill. There is a logical progression to learning cursive and in learning to form words with script letters. Already, critical thinking has been greatly displaced by test prep. I'm thrilled my state legislature has decided to mandate instruction in cursive. 

3. An inability to read cursive marginalizes history. Many historical documents were first penned in cursive. Those who argue that they never read the constitution in its original form fail to understand the importance of primary research, not only in history but also in English. It's rather ironic that history teachers are encourage to include more primary documents in their instruction at the same time cursive is being eliminated from the curriculum. 

Knowing how to read, write, and communicate involves more than obviously practical considerations. Just because we no longer need a particular skill every minute of every day, doesn't mean it has no value. 

Policy makers should think about their frustration when a sales clerk can't do simple math, the consequence of increasing technology and marginalizing a basic skill many of us learned without the use of calculators. 

Those who no longer want cursive to take a seat in the classroom should attempt a little experiment just to see whether or not they want to give up their ability to compose the wiggles and squiggles: Stop signing your name. Don't sign the debit card receipts, the credit card receipts, the pen pad in retail outlets, your tax forms, etc. Stop using cursive. Let "X" mark the spot.

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