Common Core Standards Exclude Cursive from the Curriculum by Kathryn Merrifield

It’s well into January and my enthusiasm for distributing holiday cards has waned, along with my enthusiasm to restore cursive handwriting into the elementary school curriculum.  To prove my zeal, I would order holiday cards without printing to and from address labels and make my holiday wishes look less like a direct mail campaign and appear more genuine in its intent by appearing more personal.  Not much of an angle to write on the topic of the waning implementation of cursive handwriting into elementary school curriculum, but there is more to it.

What started my crusade?  I wanted my son to sign his name on the school tablet rules of usage contract sent home to us by his teachers, but he couldn’t sign his name in script.  It told him that simply printing was adequate but then I had the reaction of a generation brought up on handwriting, it’s forms and rules and strict methods, would react.  Or, like one generation reacts about how the generation following reacts – I dug in my heals and protested.

This prompted a social media hive mind query to friends, many of whom are teachers, asking about cursive handwriting in the current common core curriculum.  Some teachers said it was still taught in California.  I know that it was taught in my children’s previous school in New York.  Now in Greenwich, Connecticut, it is not taught; the children learn typing.

Common Core Standard Initiative focuses more heavily on typing standards: by the end of the fourth grade, students should “demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.” – Common Core English Language Standards, Writing, Grade 4, http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/w/4/.

Various arguments both for an against cursive writing, offer benefits.  To the child who struggles with fine motor skills, it’s one less cognitive hurdle to jump in order to access curriculum.  To those who insist history cannot be accessed without it, The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting by Anne Trubeck, delves into the history and politics of handwriting, equating it to the evolution of language.  Script began as cuneiform – the earliest form of writing that is stripped of the personality that has been equated Round Hand, the style most accepted as American script today.  Script went through many manifestations, controlled by the type of document, business or religious, and who was producing it.  Prior to the industrial revolution, monastic clerks were charged with producing manuscripts and governed the style.

January 23rd is National Handwriting Day created by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association, an organization whose members financially benefit from the purchase of all instruments related to writing.  The date is John Hancock’s birthday – his signature is known for it’s style and flourish.

My mother, an artist and designer, has such handwriting and prides herself for handwritten notes, habits all of which were instilled in me until the last few years when the e-card, social media and easily printed holiday card made it easier to spread gracious, celebratory or holiday cheer, but were discouraging to my mom who has an indelible artist-with-etiquette, heart and mind that extends far beyond simple graciousness.

The reason for learning isn’t to be painstaking or to rant but to contextualize language historically and to offer the tactile experience of writing and handwriting to those who benefit from it.  Proof has been offered to the benefits of memory, yet before script of any kind became standardized, those in the oral tradition decried it for the shortfall between the story and mind and how it takes shape on the page.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, “Students who took handwritten notes generally outperformed students who typed their notes via computer, researchers at Princeton University and the University of California at Los Angeles found. Compared with those who type their notes, people who write them out in longhand appear to learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.”

Taking notes verbatim is easier with a laptop keyboard but the slower pace required for taking notes by hand requires that material is contextualized and made sense of in order for it to be rewritten in terms understood by the note-taker.  This process is conducive to real, long-term learning.

We are writing more now than we have been writing, through script and email, and the standard is set yet still evolving as technology offers new mediums that could in fact at someone point eliminate that gap between the mind and the page that some value as simply a pause and thoughtfulness before you speak/write.  While typing may allow fast communication, it does away with thoughtfulness:  spelling, grammar, and the building blocks of written communication, go by the wayside.

Workbooks on cursive handwriting, just ordered by me, are sitting in a pile somewhere next to the computer where they mostly play online games and watch YouTube videos about how people play video games.  The kids find a way to communicate and I try to find a way to adapt to the de facto form of writing but refuse most abbreviations.  My notes on this bunch of blather were handwritten but I caved on the handwritten return address for self-printed Avery 5160 labels and managed to send approximately ten of fifty holiday cards despite the irreplaceable and very sharable photograph subjects:  my three children, one of which laughed when he read the title of the workbook, “Handwriting Without Tears.”

“I don’t want to cry when I try to handwrite,” he said, as if inconceivable to a boy who taught himself to laugh off physical pain when experienced among peers, but enumerates each and every boo-boo and its story to his mommy at tuck in time.

Special educators argue that keyboarding can replace handwriting because it’s one less hurdle that kids who have fine motor skill challenges need to jump.  Of course, those IEP students are given accommodations and I do not think cursive should be omitted from the curriculum entirely because it then it universally denies access to all students.  Yes, I think that New York should mandate cursive while special education students should be allowed accommodations, but the theories are split as to its real value.

What I have to say about this is simply that history, whether it’s writing or learning Latin (which is being taught as part of the advanced placement curriculum in the fifth grade at my daughter’s Connecticut school) or cursive (which was taught in third grade in my daughter’s previous New York school), outmoded ways of speaking or writing are as important to learn within a curriculum as algebra or geometry or geology is prized:  what it teaches is how to contextualize information which in turn teaches critical thinking.  Whether or not I recite the first eighteen lines of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English is less a party trick and moreso was an effort to delve deeply into a topic that I may or may not use in a practical sense.

It also taught memorization despite its archaic roots of language exchange, relating, and telling stories.  Orators were once as threatened by written language as we are now about type.

In the future, handwriting, whether or not it is taught, could influence scores to college entrance exams given that SAT tests are timed and handwritten because legibility matters to a score.

The future always feels further than it is, and history is closer than you think.  Context must be taught – the big picture, the future, minded.

Individual states can expand on standards and choose to re-insert cursive into the curriculum.  The focus on the future of education, is not one of short term financial gain to either those who benefit from its implementation or those who benefit from the Common Core’s omission of it.

Cursive is taught K-4.  Education is the mind of the future.  Teach it.