Modern Curriculum Has Little Room for Cursive Handwriting

March 30, 2009 09:00 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
In today’s classrooms, handwriting takes a back seat to technology, media literacy and the demands of No Child Left Behind. But can cursive be revived?

Is Cursive Gone for Good?

Teachers maintain that the unending demands of modern education make it nearly impossible to fit cursive handwriting into the curriculum. Technology’s ever increasing presence requires that educators devote more time to teaching media literacy. Add to that the demands of No Child Left Behind, and there’s little time left for the beautiful, yet impractical ancient handwriting tradition.  

Diane Desmond, a fourth grade teacher in Massachusetts, told The Boston Globe that the importance of test scores has led to a noticeable decline in students learning cursive. “Cursive was always taught in the third grade,” she said. “In the last four or five years, I've had more students who have trouble with it. … They have trouble reading it, too.”

The issue has some teachers and experts concerned. Susan Reimer of The Baltimore Sun writes, “There are real scholars on this subject who worry that the next generation will not be able to read the Declaration of Independence because it is written in something that looks like hieroglyphics to them.”

Furthermore, according to Reimer, cursive is still taught in Maryland elementary schools, but “testing required by No Child Left Behind and new state standards” leave little time for it. “Teachers are more likely to spend time on keyboarding skills, and they believe their students write more and write better when they type,” she reports.

The Globe reports that a 2007 Vanderbilt University survey found that though most U.S. elementary schools do teach script, only 12 percent of teachers were adequately trained to teach it.

Many see cursive's decline as part of a shift developing in teaching methods, and in the way educators relate to students. With the variety and complexity of demands facing teachers and students today, skills like cursive that are not considered marketable or progressive can easily be forgotten.

According to BusinessWeek, memorization is also not as applicable to students “now that a Google search delivers vast storehouses of information in seconds.” Research and analysis skills are more important, and educators may need to allow even more technology—mobile devices, for instance—to infiltrate the classroom “to further the educational mission of the school.”

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Background: Cursive’s origins and decline

The provides detailed background information on the history of cursive writing, and offers an analysis of the construction of cursive lettering. Script was born of a “desire for beauty especially predominant among the peoples of northern and western Europe from the close of the twelfth to the sixteenth century,” and had various incarnations in France and Italy, among other European nations.

Encyclopedia Britannica outlines the origins of calligraphy, “the art of beautiful handwriting,” touching on handwriting as art in Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, as well as ancient Greek and Latin handwriting.

Ken Winkle, chair of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln history department, tells The Pace Press that up until about 200 years ago, most people did not know how to read or write. He believes that handwriting remains a valuable skill; “I don’t think students appreciate the importance of good handwriting,” he said.

Opinion & Analysis: Schools grapple with digital media

In an article for School Library Journal, teacher-librarian Joyce Valenza discusses new media literacy in the classroom. Educators must adjust their own thinking to “guide learners and help them develop strategies for selecting, using, and creating media,” she writes.

Valenza also cites ideas from Dan Gillmor, a professor of digital media entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, who argues that teachers must integrate “the emerging methods of participation that are becoming such a key element of digital media” into their lessons.

Related Topic: Secretary of education and No Child Left Behind


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