Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Dying Art

Just discovered this article about the dying art of cursive writing. It's very apropos to the homework situation at my house because cursive writing is required for all of my son's work this year, short of math of course.

As I did back in my day, my kids were both taught cursive in 3rd grade. Our school requires that all non-number related work in 4th grade must be done in cursive. I think this is great since it forces the kids to practice and apply the cursive skills they learned the year before. It does cause some angst at our house because my son writes very carefully and very s-l-o-w-l-y when using cursive, so homework takes three times longer. I think it's also caused him extra stress at school when he's given an assignment and only a certain amount of to time work because he fears he won't be able to complete it. I keep telling him that a) with practice, the cursive writing will come faster and b) maybe he doesn't need to be so very careful after all.

Thing is, after 4th grade, cursive becomes optional.
My daughter never uses cursive. Granted, she's at that age when everything she does, including her writing, is very affected. No i is dotted or exclamation point accentuated without a little circle. Drives me crazy, but I'm pretty sure she'll grow out if it the way she grew out of wanting to be a Disney princess. Still, she either prints her assignments or types them up on the computer. If the school is only going to enforce one year of cursive practice, no way can it be expected to stick permanently. And if it's not going to stick, why bother?

While I hate the idea of cursive writing going the way of calligraphy, I'm not sure it's such a tragedy if it becomes somewhat diminished in importance as far as things to focus on at school. I myself use the computer so much that the act of handwriting even an excuse note to send to school wears me out, and my print/cursive hybrid writing is nothing to brag on. I think most adults develop some kind of combo style they use when they are reduced to actually putting pen or pencil to paper. So all that time I spent on learning cursive back in grade school seems pointless now.

I'd much prefer the school make kids print very neatly than worry about cursive, especially if they are going to forget all about it after the 4th grade. It's a fact of the world in this century that a huge majority of the writing our kids will do will be via a keyboard, either computer, text, or touch screen. Having beautiful penmanship will put them in high demand when it comes time for their friends to address wedding invitations or land them that gig painting Renn Faire signage, but it's not going to get them into that prestigious Ivy League school or help them move up the work ladder any more quickly. In fact, it makes more sense to me that the time spent teaching cursive would be better used teaching proper keyboarding technique instead so we don't end up with an entire generation of point-and-poke single finger typers.

It's a matter of focusing on the skills necessary to operate in today's world. How many people today know how to use a slide rule? Once upon a time, well formed cursive served a purpose. What purpose does it serve today that isn't being met by another tool? If cursive was originally used to speed up writing - more words on the page in less time - I would argue that typing on a keyboard is way faster than that.

My issue is that both of my kids have atrocious handwriting, in my opinion. My son's cursive is very well formed, but when he prints, I have a hard time reading his writing. And while I can read my daughter's papers, she seems completely oblivious to the poorly erased mistakes that interfere with a neat, pride-filled presentation. I often worry that they will be marked down for illegible writing, but so far the teachers are proving to have better deciphering skills than I do. Maybe it's that I'm overestimating the skill level I expect at their respective ages, but I just think my writing at that point in my life was much better. I feel I'm constantly nagging for them to write neater, go slower, erase better and "take some pride in your work!"

Perhaps cursive writing is something that should be delegated to an elective in high school the way other art forms are. I would be much happier to have my kids work on printing well than knowing how to write in cursive, never using that skill, and have sloppy handwriting in any form.

And just because a person doesn't know how to write in cursive doesn't mean he or she doesn't know how to write at all. My dad made me learn to drive a car with manual transmission before I could get my driver's license. I haven't driven a stick shift car in ten years. Sure, I know I can if I need to, and that's reassuring whenever I have to rent a moving truck. But if I'd never learned to do it in the first place, I'd still be able to get myself where I needed to go.

No comments: