Friday, January 29, 2016

Should Indiana Schools Be Required to Teach Cursive Writing?

Growl. Wrote this a few days ago and forgot to publish it.

Once again, Indiana State Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) has introduced a bill (Senate Bill 73) to require Indiana students to … wait for it … learn to write in cursive. Seriously. And the Indiana Senate passed this bill by a vote of 30-18. Again, seriously.

Look, I’m not particularly opposed to cursive writing (though I print and have done so since the first day that a teacher didn’t require me to write in cursive, circa 1976 or so). But to add cursive writing as a requirement for students who are already over-burdened and falling behind on subjects that both matter and have real world implications, seems stupid. Moreover, to presume that on an issue this narrow, the state legislature — the often fact- and evidence-averse state legislature — thinks that it knows better than local school districts seems ridiculous.

I think that I understand the arguments in favor of requiring cursive instruction. For one thing, writing in cursive is faster than printing. It may be faster than typing for some kids. Thus, cursive proficiency may — I repeat may — be a valuable workplace skill for Indiana students. But is it more valuable than other skills that we could use that time and energy to teach? I also recognize that students (and later adults) who have received instruction in cursive may have an easier time reading old documents that were written in cursive. And that is obviously more important than, say, learning to use modern technology that will be used by students in most career paths, rightt?

As Sen. Leising, the bill’s author put it:

“Our children should not be denied the opportunity to learn such a valuable skill,” Leising said. “Medical professionals have found that proficient handwriting is linked to adult-like thought processing and higher test scores. Much of history is written in cursive, and it is important that we give our children the tools and skills they need to reach their full potential.”

But those reasons don’t seem to be good enough to support this proposal.

First, let’s look at Sen. Leising’s reasoning. She is worried that students may be “denied the opportunity to learn such a valuable skill”. First, nobody is denying that opportunity to students. Schools currently have the option to teach cursive if it fits into the curricula. And parents certainly have the right to teach their children. But there are lots of “valuable skills” that our schools don’t presently teach our students (fire-building, car maintenance, ability to see through political rhetoric and bullshit, proper techniques for oral sex…). Why single out cursive?

As to whether medical professionals have found proficient handwriting to be linked to “adult-like thought processing” … I have no idea. Maybe yes, maybe no. But “handwriting” dosn’t necessarily mean cursive. More importantly, do those studies (if they exist) demonstrate that competent note taking via other means aren’t also linked to adult-like thought processing”? And why, do you suppose, do the views of medical professionals matter when it comes to things like cursive instruction, but not to things like the value of early pre-school education, safe drinking water, sanitary and safe conditions in childcare ministries, the existince of global warming, and the medical truths surrounding abortion (e.g., it doesn’t cause breast cancer or depression and early-term fetuses do not feel pain)? It seems to me that GOP legislators love what science says, but only when science supports their pet issue; otherwise, science is a liberal construct that is to be ignored and distrusted.

Think about this: Could the time spent teaching students to write in cursive be spent teaching them to take notes via online, potentially collaborative, note-taking platforms (think Evernote)? Could that time be spent providing typing instruction to increase students’ speed and reduce errors when using a keyboard? I suspect (though I haven’t done any research) that people who are truly proficient typists have a higher words-per-minute output than the fastest cursive writers. After all, if writing in cursive was so fast, then why would stenographers and court recorders use shorthand and keyboards?

It’s also worth noting that SB73 also requires accredited private schools to teach cursive, too. I thought that part of the “charm” of private schools was not having to follow certain state-imposed curricula requirements.

Finally, there is one other odd quirk that I noticed about SB73. In addition to mandating that cursive writing be added back into the curricula, SB73 also adds a requirement that students be taught reading. That requirement is listed separately from the existing requirement to teach language arts, including English, grammar, composition, and speech. It would seem to me that it would be difficult to teach language arts without teaching reading, but I don’t think adding that one extra word is harmful. It just struck me as odd. I don’t know… Are there some schools in Indiana that aren’t teaching students to read?


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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Happy New Year & What I've Been Working On

I haven’t posted since early December. Oops. But the lack of visible output doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing or working on this blog. I have. In fact, I’ve been working on two “deep dive” posts and a larger project.

Similar to my deep dive into RFRA last spring, I’ve been working on an analysis of the amendment to the Indiana civil rights laws to add protection for sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill needs a deep dive because it is fatally flawed. Rather than helping to end discrimination, the bill provides a license and roadmap for those who want to discriminate with a poison pill to stop those who dislike parts of the bill from challenging it in the courts.

I’ve also been working on a post about the newest fight in terms of LGBT equality issues: Transgender equality. I plan to discuss both the “bathroom issue” as well as the “man in a dress” stalking horse so prevalent among those who are afraid of transgender individuals. And I plan to talk about some of the other difficulties faced by the transgender community.

Finally, I’ve been going back through all of my old posts with the plan to try to clean up typos (I’m not the best proofreader of my own material at the time I write it) and, to the extent possible, fix broken links. But that’s a long-term project that I’ll work on here and there when I get to it.

Oh, and just to add to the fun of things, the application that I use to write my blogs (Microsoft Live Writer) suddenly stopped working with Blogger. So I need to either find a workaround (two things I've tried haven't worked) or find an alternate application.

I’m here. I’m busy. I'm annoyed.

In the meantime, is there anything that you’d like to hear my thoughts on?


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