The write stuff: In the age of tablets and smartphones, should students learn cursive writing?
For teaching cursive: Joanne Foster, author, OISE instructor and gifted
Good penmanship has fallen by the wayside as kids and adults tap-tap-tap messages on electronic devices. Nowadays, writing has become a keyboard-generated medium. So why should teachers spend time and effort teaching children to formulate the curves and lines of letters when they can readily print or pound them out? There are many reasons!
Communication is at the core of civilization, and cursive writing represents a skill set that enables — indeed encourages — people to formulate and convey their ideas in an efficient, thoughtfully generated and structured manner. Children benefit from the discipline involved and from the focus required. The way a person forms and joins letters is an expression of individuality and uniqueness and is an open portal to creativity.
Being able to write legibly is important for career pursuits, including knowing how to function on paper when the computer system crashes or the power goes out. Using tech-based script and channelling words through fonts is impersonal, whereas careful, effortful writing enhances connectivity among people. When children don’t learn how to write properly, their letter formations are sloppy, often bordering on illegible, and without structure and reinforcement they’ll resist trying to improve this. Plus, they’ll have difficulty reading handwriting. Moreover, writing instruction and practice help to build fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination.
Cursive isn’t “old school” or elaborate or superfluous. It’s a tried-and-true, disciplined and customized means of connecting with others. Sure, words are individualized and broadly networked when conveyed via technology, but when pen meets paper and the writing flows, truly anything is possible.
Against teaching cursive: Howard Goodman, Toronto Disctrict
School Board trustee
My mother is troubled that her grandsons can’t read or write cursive. Many share her concern. A half century ago, a “good hand” was seen as the sign of intelligence and “good breeding.” Cursive was important to being treated seriously and getting a good job. Today this is no longer the case, and most everyone now agrees that it was misguided to place so much importance on a single mechanical skill.
The rise of computer-mediated communication has dramatically reduced the value of cursive. In response, schools have shifted efforts to other more relevant areas, such as complex pattern recognition, appreciation of diverse cultures and the ability to resist manipulation by advertisers. Simply put, schools need to keep current with the changing needs of society, changes that are often driven by the technology that we use.
As a young student, with the mandatory ink-well hole in my desk, I recall the heated debate about whether to allow students to use ballpoint rather than fountain pens. Obviously, there are no longer ink-well holes in students’ desks.
Although cursive itself has diminished in value, the brain development prompted by cursive remains as important as ever. “Brain building” is the business of every school. This includes empathy, courage, independence and self-regulation as well as language, critical thinking and math skills. Changes in technology don’t alter these underlying goals. As we shift emphasis away from a traditional practice or skill, such as cursive writing, we find other ways to provide the useful brain development that it generated.
As we drop cursive, we need to find paper-based and touch-screen-based ways (such as mazes and tracing games) to achieve the underlying brain-benefits that it has delivered in the past — hopefully more quickly (and certainly more enjoyably) than through cursive.