By Bruce Deitrick Price
Modern educators are dismissive of cursive. Indeed, many are hostile to such a degree that you should immediately suspect that they are up to something.
Here is an education journalist providing the Party Line: "Cursive writing is an anachronism. Spending any classroom time on it is comparable to teaching how to use an abacus: it's interesting as a history lesson, and probably offers some side benefits, but it is not at all practical as a day-to-day skill in the modern, connected world."
A professor of education argues: "Cursive should be allowed to die. In fact, it's already dying, despite having been taught for decades." (You can depend on education professors to confuse "decades" with "centuries.")
When you read such swaggering attacks on cursive, you might assume that the question is settled. The old geezer is dead, so take him off life support. You rarely see thoughtful praise of cursive. Even people who are sentimentally inclined to support cursive can't think of many reasons to do so.
I propose a higher truth: the Education Establishment is always a reliable guide to what is good. If our socialist professors rail against X, you know that X is educational gold. Here are eight reasons why cursive is valuable and we should fight to keep it in the classroom:
1) LEARN TO READ FASTER. The main thing is that learning cursive accelerates learning to read. If it did nothing else, this alone would still make it a huge asset. Cursive obviously makes a child more aware of letter forms and how words are spelled. Don Potter, the phonics guru, states: "Any attempt to educate American children that neglects the direct development of fluent handwriting is doomed to fail. The little dribble of handwriting done with the typical phonics programs is FAR below optimal."
2) HIGHER I.Q. Reading itself has unexpected benefits. Namely, it makes you smarter. Some researchers speculate that
the brain rewires itself to become better at reading. K-12 is full of inferior methods that let children remain poor readers for years. Their I.Q.s will not advance; their academic skills will not improve. In contrast, cursive accelerates reading, which will accelerate everything else.
3) PRECISION. Cursive requires that young students do something precisely. Not sloppily, not incompletely, not according to personal whim. Cursive says: This is an M. Draw it exactly like the diagram. Practice until you can do it correctly. Penmanship is the perfect path to precision.
Precision is a valuable concept for young people. They will learn to read faster and think faster, and it will influence how they approach everything else. When you spell a word, it needs to be spelled a certain way. Grammar says words must be used in particular ways.
So much of what they do in public schools nowadays is a blanket endorsement of sloppiness. Kids can do anything any way they want. That is not education. That's "academic child abuse."
4) FINE MOTOR SKILLS. Even detractors of phonics acknowledge that it teaches fine motor skills. Simply holding a pencil is a big accomplishment for little kids. We know from the history of carpets that little kids are capable of extraordinarily delicate work. If children are working within the context of their family, this work can be largely beneficial. They learn how to create something really complicated, with lots of counting required.
But where do kids today get a chance to perform anything exacting, even for ten minutes? Few children build models anymore. Videogames require the same actions over and over again. Cursive demands both physical and mental dexterity.
5) CALLIGRAPHY. This word, which is almost pure Greek, means beautiful writing. Learning cursive introduces a child to the world of logos, type design, and graphic design generally. Children can compare cursive writing to typefaces they see in the newspaper. They can design their own names in different ways – each is a logo. Many products have script logos; today's students cannot read these beautiful names.
6) HISTORY. When children learn cursive, they can read the Declaration of Independence and many other historical documents. They can read letters from older relatives.
7) INDIVIDUAL SIGNATURES. Cursive allows for personal expression. A person's signature is nearly as unique as a fingerprint. Nowadays, children learn to print their signatures; these will not be distinctive, probably causing lots of confusion in the legal system. Probably our collectivist educators like the idea of all people looking the same and having almost identical signatures. The world will be more boring.
8) TAKING NOTES. Handwriting is faster than printing. That was the main reason they developed it. If students want to take notes in the classroom, cursive is the obvious choice.
The aforementioned education journalist specifically squealed: "I shudder to think of the time I spent learning cursive: 15 minutes of schooling, every day."
Let's think about that. What, in the typical public school, is accomplished in the entire day? Almost nothing, judging by literacy and other test scores. But we're supposed to believe that "almost nothing" reduced by 15 minutes is a big deal.
Let's turn it around. Apparently, 15 minutes a day is all it takes to learn cursive. Now, that's a bargain, readily and cheaply available for every child in America. A mere 15 minutes a day will result in higher I.Q., faster and better reading, a greater appreciation of the aesthetic aspects of type, faster note-taking, one's very own signature, more coordinated fingers, and the ability to find out what Thomas Jefferson is famous for. Cursive may be the best deal offered in K-12 education.
QED: The pattern I see is that our Education Establishment tends to promote methods that don't work. If you are engaged in "the deliberate dumbing down of America," cursive is your natural enemy.
Probably the real reason our experts condemn cursive is because cursive actually works.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains theories and methods on his education sites Improve-Education.org. For info on his four new novels, see his literary site Lit4u.com.