For all the new things that schools will be called on to teach under the soon-to-be-implemented Common Core curriculum standards, it’s a skill that has been omitted that is causing controversy: cursive writing. Good old script penmanship isn’t part of the standards, which have been adopted by 45 states, including California. It’s not forbidden or discouraged, but Common Core focuses on analytical and computer-based skills rather than the long hours of practice required to link letters in a flowing style. Testing, note-taking and writing for academia and business are increasingly accomplished via keyboard, not pencil or pen and legal pad.
Several states, including California, have kept requirements for cursive instruction in place, but many others appear ready for its demise. The handwriting may be on the wall.
That’s OK. States and schools shouldn’t cling to cursive based on the romantic idea that it’s a tradition, an art form or a basic skill whose disappearance would be a cultural tragedy. Of course, everyone needs to be able to write without computers, but longhand printing generally works fine. Many of today’s young adults, even though they were taught cursive, have abandoned it in favor of printing. Print is clearer and easier to read than script. For many, it’s easier to write and just about as fast.
Some educators claim that cursive writing plays a role in brain and overall academic development, but others disagree and say what the studies actually show is that any form of hand lettering, including print, engages more of the brain than keyboarding does.
When society adds new skills and new knowledge to the list of things public schools teach, some other items have to come off the list. Otherwise, the result is a curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep, as California’s has famously been. Cursive might be one skill that can be painlessly dropped to make way for new ones.
Because so many adults still communicate in cursive, perhaps what’s needed is a transition period during which students still learn to read it — that can be taught relatively quickly — but no longer go through the laborious and painstaking process of learning to write it.
This isn’t a popular notion with many parents. We all tend to think of what we learned in school as “basic” to an educated populace. How can young people do without it? Easily, as they already are proving. As easily as replacing the old John Hancock with a fingerprint scan.