The Death of Cursive and Other Catastrophes of Minor Importance

I am entering unchartered waters.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother can help me with this, and my friends are all caught up in the same current.

We are the parents of the first generation of screen-taught children, and something about it makes me feel very uneasy.

All of my kids have Smart Boards in their classrooms. My second grader regularly gets on the computer at school. My sixth graders were given laptops this year to bring home. They use their laptops at school and then they come home and do 90% of their homework on them. For several hours.IMG_5293

They are learning.

I think.

Now, I will be the first to say that technology is amazing. It has enhanced and enriched my life in so many ways.  But at the same time, when I see my kids parked on the couch like this part of me screams inside. I feel this is all too early, and I think we will regret exposing them to so much when they are still so young. I know that schools feel pressure to be technologically savvy and everyone wants to be on the cutting edge of education, but I feel like the cutting edge of education is excellent teachers (which my kids have), and not screens.

While they were taught not give out personal info on their laptops, my 11-year-olds were not given any guidance concerning pornography; what it is, and what they should do if they see it. They were instructed to simply “not view pornographic images” and to “use your laptop in public areas of the house.” The school seems to have confidence that the students will explicitly obey these instructions. I guess none of us have to worry. Whew!

Then I find out that the kids are sometimes asked to gather images to post into their homework. It doesn’t take long for a child to learn that the fastest way to gather images is to search under Images on Google. If the schools think the children will not come across pornography that way, they are in fantasyland. (I looked up “cow” the other day under Images for an art project and stumbled upon a couple of surprises! Yikes!)

But I can see how the schools’ hands are tied. They are as mystified as parents are when it comes to the appropriate way to explain pornography to kids that young. And that very fact should clue us in. Should we be letting our children use any device if the warning label alone is too dangerous to be explained?

I think it is important for kids to learn with computers, and I think it is vital that they have laptops. I just can’t help wondering if this could all wait a few more years. There are things they need to know first, things they need to experience first, and self-discipline that they need to develop. As adults they will be on computers for the rest of their lives. Their childhood should be kept as pristine and protected as a National Park. I want them to be kids now. I want them to draw, imagine, run, scribble, play outside. Am I using enough italics to get my point across?

Not only that, but the year after my twins learned cursive the school stopped teaching it.  No more cursive. That means my younger children will never be able to read this:

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Pages of my journal. This particular entry is a poem I wrote in college about wishing I had my own washing machine. Boring, you say? Well, that is because the juicy stuff is on the next page. 🙂

My kids will also not be able to read this:

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A letter written by my mother

Cursive is going to be as readable as a foreign language.

Of course, I can’t let this happen to my children, so I will teach them the lost arts of Cursive and other outdated practices like Brainstorming and Coming Up With Original Ideas Not Found On Pinterest and Writing Thank-You Letters By Hand.

But all is not lost. Recently my daughter Naomi came up to me and said, “Mom I have one week left of my personal goal.”

Me: “What is your personal goal?”

Naomi: “To not play computer games for four weeks.”

My mouth dropped open. In my mind I quickly reviewed Naomi’s activities of the last three weeks and sure enough, Naomi had never asked to play on the computer (which I grudgingly allow after all homework and piano practicing is finished). Instead she had drawn stacks and stacks of beautiful pictures. She had read dozens of books. I was so proud of her I almost exploded. A week later, when she finally finished her “personal goal,” I let her play on the computer. She only asked for 20 min and she hasn’t asked since.

If we took all the time we spent on computers and used it to draw, think of what great artists we’d be. If we took that time and practiced an instrument, threw a ball back and forth, read books . . . think of what we could do. Well, there ARE kids out there that doing that. And I believe they will be the creative leaders in the future because they had a creative beginning.

We are riding a wave of technology that leads to Who-knows-where, and in the process we are tossing many treasured things overboard. In my mind I imagine me and my mother-friends being sucked into this swift, uncharted current of technology and shouting out to each other, “What should we do?”

The easy answer is, “Let’s just see where it takes us!”

To me that sounds like some famous last words.

11 Comments

Filed under Parenting

11 responses to “The Death of Cursive and Other Catastrophes of Minor Importance

  1. This just makes me really sad. 😦 I’m so glad our school still lets the children learn cursive. How will the future generations learn to write their signature? Will everything just go to print.? Or do they plan on cutting penmanship out all together…having the children just learn to type? There are so many wonderful things about technology…but there is just so much negative as well….. 😦
    Great Post!

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  2. Great post. Very thought provoking.

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  3. kategladstone

    Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)

    More recently, it has also been documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.
    This is what I’d expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive is the direct opposite of “great.” Contrary to myth, reversal in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my case-load, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”

    Returning to current research: this is conclusively showing that the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all of them – making only the simplest of joins, omitting the rest, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

    Reading cursive still matters — but even children can be taught to read writing that is more complex than what they are encouraged to produce haven’t been taught to imitate. Reading cursive, simply reading it can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. (In fact, now there’s even an iPad app to teach how: named “Read Cursive,” of course — http://appstore.com/readcursive .) So why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as some handwriting style that’s actually typical of effective handwriters?
    (Teaching material designed for a practical style abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where a such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive which is revered by too many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown: http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/hwlesson.html )

    Even in the USA and Canada, educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority — 55 percent — wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
    When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why glorify it — let alone seek a legislative mandate for it, as cursive’s supporters in the USA are seeking in state after state?

    Cursive’s cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you happy and graceful, adds brain cells, instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant. (This is frequent in testimony given before state legislatures by the advocates of cursive, who are often state senators or representatives addressing their colleagues and/or their constituents in order to create support for a cursive mandate bill that the legislator has introduced.)

    So far, whenever a legislator or other devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident when others examine the claimed support:

    /1/ either the claim provides no traceable source,

    or

    /2/ if a source is cited, it is misquoted or is incorrectly described (e.g., the study most cited in defense of cursive is an Indiana University research study which was not even about cursive. That study — “Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James — compares print-writing with keyboarding among kindergarteners. Since print-writing came out ahead, this study is perennially misrepresented by cursive’s defenders as a study “comparing print-writing with cursive”)

    or

    /3/ the claimant _correctly_ quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.

    Cursive devotees’ eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are commonly made — under oath — in testimony before state legislatures and other bodies voting on bills to mandate cursive handwriting in schools. The bills are, without exception so far, introduced by legislators whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — although investigative reporting of the questionable testimony does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when the discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill. (For documentation on a typical recent example in one state — North Carolina — see the sources noted below.)

    What about cursive and signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
    Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.
    ALL writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

    SOURCES:

    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
    Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED056015

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /3 Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):
    https://www.hw21summit.com/research-harman-james
    Hey! Welcome to your TextBoard.

    Concerns about legislative misrepresentation in the name of cursive (documentation from North Carolina) —

    Background on our handwriting, past and present:
    3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —

    TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —

    HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
    (shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone • http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    DIRECTOR, World Handwriting Contest

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    • Kate, Wow. I am speechless. Thank you for your comment. This is obviously your area of expertise, and I appreciate all of this information. This doesn’t change my opinion that I think cursive is important for kids to learn, especially my own kids.

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      • kategladstone

        Thanks, Chelsea, for responding. You praise the facts I noted — so i want to understand how your opinion remains what it had been when you didn’t have these facts. Please help me understand.

        What further kind of information or evidence on this matter — if it existed and if you had it — would you regard as a reason to change your opinion?

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  4. It isn’t about evidence, Kate. Or research. Or fine motor skills. It is about retaining a skill that will help my children connect with me and with their ancestors and with history, and it is very personal. In our church we do a lot of family history research. A LOT. We spend hours sifting through family documents, reading journals and looking for dates of births and deaths. Any skills I can give my children that will aid them in this process is of upmost importance to me. I have reasons that I want my kids to learn certain things, and it isn’t always to do well on tests or to succeed in school. Learning is also about connecting with people, and in that sense cursive is important to our family.

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  5. I like this post. A number of my students still want to learn cursive, even though they are not taught it. Just today a very bright and accomplished piano student used cursive in a piano book, and told me that she taught herself. She writes beautifully!

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  6. Chad Kearsley

    Chelsea:

    GREAT POST! So glad that Scott Kelly pointed it out to me. Count me in as a fan!
    In my day job, I work in Microsoft Education team, and I spend a lot of time thinking and talking to educators about technology and how it helps or hinders learning. I’m by no means an expert, but I thought I would share a couple thoughts.

    On handwriting…
    Check out this NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Aw&_r=1

    It’s an interesting read and scan of research about what neuroscientists and psychologists are learning about the impact of the act of handwriting on learning and cognition:

    “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain. And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”

    This research for me is interesting because my employer, Microsoft, has spent a great deal of time and research on delivering digital inking on the Windows, whether it is our own Surface devices or tablets (or convertible devices) from our partners like (Dell, HP, etc) Find me sometime at Church, and I’ll show you the tablet I use that has digital inking. (You might find this chat interesting too: https://mix.office.com/watch/1QNZXFK1KEHOC )

    Technology seems to always be about trade-offs. Can my children read or write in cursive? And does that disconnect them from the past? In some ways, yes, but I also look at the digital records (images) we have of those letters and documents, and I think the trade-off may be worth it. But I also know the way that reading the original, feeling the original can connect us to our past.

    We were visiting the rusts this past summer and Elder Rust showed us the original “life story” of my great-great grandfather Kearsley. HIs cursive handwriting was beautiful, and I felt a new closeness to him as I read his handwriting and imagined his hands, the pen, the care that he took in putting pen to paper.

    On raising kids in a technology driven world… What a tough one. My answer at the moment is to stay engaged and to strive really hard to “teach correct principles.”

    Keep the writing going!

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    • Thanks so much Chad. Scott Kelly told me he saw you and told you about my blog, so I am so glad you left your comment. I do think that technology was meant to be and that ultimately children will use it for good if they are “taught correct principles” like you said. I would love to try out your tablet. We might see each other tomorrow in the hallways for interviews…:)

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  7. I stumbled across your blog recently – thanks for this post. It inspired me to write to my superintendent thanking the district for continuing to teach cursive. You should see how proud my girls are that they can write “fancy.” I’ve heard of schools discontinuing teaching cursive before, and my first thought is always “But how are they going to read ANYTHING that was written more than 50-60 years ago??”

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  8. Cursive can be elegant. I think elegance is good.

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