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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At Saturday, January 30, 2016 7:36:00 PM , Blogger Cheryl said...

Being able to sign one's "John Hancock" so to speak is, I feel,of primary importance. Our complete reliance upon electronics as a means of learning and communication may or may not be helpful. The question is, when they lose the ability to read it and write it, what happens when there is no power? The ability to communicate in written form is an art the should not be lost to our children who already are losing the ability to properly spell and write proper grammar in any form.

At Tuesday, February 02, 2016 2:24:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...


First, I agree with you that the ability to communicate in writing is important. My disagreement is the form that writing must take. Sure, cursive may be a more efficient or attractive form of writing, but it isn't essential and it isn't worth sacrificing something else to achieve. Yes, we need to write if the power goes out, but that doesn't equate to writing in cursive any more than saying that we need to teach our kids to drive horse drawn buggies in case of another oil embargo. I'd much rather spend more time teaching kids proper grammar at the expense of cursive writing.

In addition, your comment highlights a common misconception. A signature (John Hancock) does not need to be a person's name written in cursive. A signature is no more than a mark by which a person identifies themselves and acknowledges agreement with an instrument or document. If that mark is an X or a printed name or a lovely series of squiggles, that's fine. Thus, whether a person can write in cursive has now effect on their ability to sign a document.


What is the purpose of spamming the comment section of my blog? Do you really think that people who follow my blog or who are interested in a discussion of cursive handwriting in Indiana will be interested in clicking on your link to learn about embroidery machines? I mean, seriously?

At Sunday, February 07, 2016 3:21:00 PM , Blogger Justin L. Brown said...

very good post

At Sunday, October 16, 2016 8:13:00 AM , Blogger Nickole Dinardo said...

This is interesting information.

At Thursday, January 12, 2017 6:12:00 PM , Blogger Nickole Dinardo said...

Good to see this information.


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