Today on Fox News Internet entrepreneur Brian Rodriguez debated a veteran teacher about the value of dropping penmanship courses in schools.
Rodriguez feels time spent teaching cursive takes away from preparing students for state mandated tests, tests that rely on electronic forms of communication. Kids, he aruges, need to learn to be “technologically literate,” rather than legible writers, to compete in the marketplace.
I wonder, Mr. Rodriguez, is teaching kids to read still worth the time afforded, or has that become an outdated and trite goal?
While the idea of teaching kids cursive rather than to just print legibly seems time-wasting in an era when speed and accuracy trump the beauty of letter formation; other pragmatic issues such as fluency and reading skill need to be addressed before dumping cursive.
In his article “What Is It About Cursive?” Rand Nelson notes, “There are a number of reading specialists who are now convinced that cursive should be taught in the beginning. They believe it offers advantages over printwriting for reading skill development.”
Within the movements of cursive, which inherently joins letters, the lateral strokes enhance legibility. Joining letters presents the ‘non-visual advantage,’ offering a more fluent production of letters. It’s a faster, more efficient movement, given that lowercase cursive alphabet is produced with just three movements, vs. six in lowercase print forms.
While the educator debating on Fox arugued that teaching students to be legible when they take pencil to paper was still a valuable skill; Rodriguez, with a permanent smirk on his face as if to say “oh you poor, old naive fool,” suggested teaching cursive was holding on to “nostalgia about an antiquated practice.”
Brian, do try to hold your disgust for our ancient ways taught by “ancient” educators to a minimum.
Since the moment early civilizations marked their history through symbols, signs and words, the written expression has brought forth the intention of mankind in a way, I believe, typed characters cannot.
“Everyone”, Rodriguez argued, uses some form of computer, PDA or phone to get their point across, so why waste valuable and limited curriculum time trying to teach kids to write neater q’s?
I can already see dinner time at home in Brian’s house. His wife talks on her cell while she emails her holiday thank you notes, the kids type their english paper with accepted shorthand acronyms to describe the rules of grammar and Brian IM’s his biz partner with a new online product, a bumper sticker with, “Got paper? You might be the only one.”
Don’t laugh, you already know these people.
Forget that not “everyone” has electronic sources of communications at their fingertips, or even wants to, there’s something said for holding on to a nice pen and linen notecard. That “archaic” mode of word hitting paper in a scrawl or perfect formation gets the brain juices going in a manner the keypad can’t.
Over my dead body covered in books, letters, cards, notes and sticky pads will words on paper disappear into the musuem of “old, yet outdated innovations.”
This is the reason why despite many suggestions by my friends to use voice recognition software to write, weeks after I injured my wrist, I never even considered it.
Besides the fact that word changes and backing up re-writes don’t play well with these devices, articles and ideas don’t evolve from mouth to screen in quite the same fluidity they do from your hand to whatever.
With one more degree of separation from my writing tool, a piece about cursive vs. computer would end up being about crab grass. These neuro connections tingle and stimulate side thoughts and tangents, focus and new ideas. They turn trash to workable, and glorious to “what were you thinking?”
While today I write on a computer; I learned to write on paper and finish on a typewriter. I have to think my connection to language might have been slightly diluted if I’d not had this paper and pen diligence for so many years.
During the debate the teacher made it clear that he wasn’t suggesting E communication was evil and had to be stopped. Even the Dalia Lama uses computers and emails on occasion to make concious contact to the unenlightened.
No one argues the speed, accuracy or global benefit of pounding the keys to press a point, prepare a paper, posit a theory, create a presentation or pound a quick email.
E-communication will never understudy for the handwritten thank you note, the quick jot on a sticky pad, a letter to a loved one or a side point jotted while working on a thesis. Prospective employers if they are wise, will note the interviewee who sends the handwritten thank you or makes notes on a pad instead of a PDA during the interview.
Paper and pen isn’t lazy, paper and pen takes care.
E-communication with others in waiting screams of lack of attention, lack of civility, lack of priority. It depersonalizes people who are already looking for ways to stay emotionally safe and unconcious.
Teaching kids to connect their thoughts through parchment in a readable format breeds a work ethic and a valuable learner. Penmanship requires attentiveness, diligence, motor skills, repetition, fluidity of line, and attention to detail. It is, I feel, as relevant and necessary to teaching kids to recognize letters in the first place.
Typed words can easily hold their own when they are carefully chosen and placed, yet often before hitting “Send,” they are not. And without the emotion behind our handwritten swirls, curls, lines and loops, the writer must work harder to make her point clear, her emotion carefully delivered because the words come so much faster to the page.
Parenthetical smileys and quippish acronyms don’t brim with the artful individuality that only our unique thumbprint of penmanship or careful use of words do.
Cursive and clear print must be taught with the old reverence we once gave it, as one of the cornerstones to creating conscientious and clear communication. As our language continues to become diluted through abrupt emails, slang and text abbreviations, eliminating cursive only speeds the death of what feels like the downfall of civility.
Cursive must remain as one of our basic tenets of good language, of good behavior, as a clear mission statement to explain why sending an email to say “I am so sorry at the loss of your wife” is not, and never should be, on the same plane as sending a handwritten note to say, “I am so sorry at the loss of your wife.”
Pen to paper links our brain to our point and shows we are one with the genuine intention behind the communication. Moreover retaining some of our old ways isn’t necessarily a result of having anxiety about the new.
“No one has suggested that the invention of the calculator means we don’t have to teach kids how to add, and spelling is still a prized skill in the era of spell check.” says Raina Kelley, author of the article, “The Writing On the Wall.”
While the typewriter offers no pragmatic place in communication compared to computers, cursive offers the brain to hand benefits for kids, speed of handwriting and a fluency that can’t be replaced by computer typing.
If we ever decide that teaching kids cursive no longer warrants time in the classroom, if we become fully absorbed by circuit boards and software substitutes, then no matter where we all place our words, paper or screen, we decay a part of our civilization that was once filled with a beautiful, thoughtful and linguistically rich expression of who we are.