By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Eldra Avery & Dustin Ellis: contrasting views on cursive
Should fancy loops and flowing letters of cursive still be taught to students? Is cursive writing an obsolete skill no longer relevant in today’s technological society?
The new Common Core State Standards for English do not require cursive. However, under the new standards, states are allowed to teach cursive if they choose, and California still does. Some states, like Georgia, are considering abandoning longhand lessons altogether, since cursive is not on standardized tests.
This issue is being hotly debated in teacher lunchrooms around the state. We asked two CTA members to weigh in. Here’s what they have to say.
Cursive connects us to our past and our future
By Eldra Avery
We create our own culture. If we deem a skill irrelevant, than we eliminate that skill. If we believe that a skill is worthy, then we will work to reinforce that skill. Legible penmanship is a worthy skill, not only as a communication tool, but as a portion of our individual identity.
As opposed to keyboarding, handwriting is a reflection of our humanity and connects us to our past and to our future. If students can’t write cursive, they can’t read cursive. And if they can’t read cursive, how can they read historical documents, like the Declaration of Independence?
We dream of a future with technology and less labor as our savior, but truthfully, if technology prevents us from honing skills that are intrinsically human, I wonder if that can be called “progress.”
I failed a handwriting assignment in eighth grade, and my teacher told me that I was way too smart to have that type of penmanship. So I improved my handwriting and now have beautiful handwriting. I teach AP English, and at times I have forced all of my students to do assignments in cursive. Since students will be taking timed writing exams throughout their educational career, it is imperative that they practice writing at a speed that will enable them to finish their task. When you have three letters connected in a word, it flows, and when you lift the pen only at the end of a word, it is faster than printing, which lifts the pen at the completion of each letter.
Legible penmanship is not a skill that can be purchased; therefore, it is one more way to create equity in the classroom. Through practice comes improvement, and with improvement comes self-esteem and pride in a task successfully accomplished. In a society that equates status with wealth, it is refreshing to see status awarded for practice and accomplishment.
Penmanship develops fine motor skills, and most students find that when they practice, they can radically improve their handwriting. With Internet plagiarism a concern, many teachers have increased in-class writing assignments, and these essays must be legible.
Copying text is a process that promotes “internalizing language.” Because students are continually distracted by technology, they spend fewer hours reading, which translates to inadequate “internalizing of language.” Copying by hand can help many students. My students complete a poetry explication paper each year. Many of them tell me that they couldn’t begin to understand their poem until they copied it by hand.
Penmanship is an art form, and in truth, if you want to get someone’s attention, handwrite your note. An e-mail can get deleted in a millisecond; not so with a handwritten communication. Communication through handwriting will always be a necessity. To imagine that the entire world will communicate via keyboard access is a rather narrow view.
Eldra Avery is an English teacher at San Luis Obispo High School and a San Luis Coastal Teachers Association member.
Cursive is unnecessary
By Dustin Ellis
Cursive is unnecessary, as was calligraphy before it. Writing is a means to communicate, and we are past the world of the physical art of writing. Whatever could be created by the pen can now be recreated by the computer. This is the world our students live in. If they can print, they can communicate in the written word. If they need it to be beautiful, computers have many font options to do just that.
According to state standards, kids must learn cursive in third grade. When they come to me in fourth grade, they are out of practice and their cursive is a train wreck. Half of what they write is unreadable. Writing needs to be a functional thing, and students should be able to do that any way they can.
I’ve heard colleagues say students write faster in cursive, but I have timed my students, and they take longer to write in cursive than if they are printing. I have noticed this on test prep for STAR exams.
When it comes to the argument that cursive helps fine motor skills, I disagree. Cursive is not all that different from printing. Students can still learn to make curves in printing as well as straight lines, which is not possible with cursive, since it is all circular.
One hundred years ago, every student learned calligraphy. Some people had to pay an artist to do calligraphy for them. But calligraphy is now dead, for all intents and purposes, and you don’t need it to be a successful writer. The same is now true of cursive.
I want my students to be compatible and competitive with what the world is going to look like in 20 years. Cursive is not going to be a part of that world. In the next 10 years, every piece of historical source documents will be digitalized and translated into standard font. Students who will go on to become historians can learn cursive, but most of them are not going to be spending a lot of time looking at source documents.
There is so much information that teachers have to cover nowadays for state tests, plus there is character education and much more. At the beginning of school, I send home a packet and ask students to practice cursive and turn it in to me in a month. It’s not perfect, but it’s one of the trade-offs I have to make.
I teach in a high-performing school, and many parents say they want more “challenges” for their child, and they put cursive in this context. But I am not going to spend a lot of time on this because this is the age of iPads, cell phones and computers. When a kid can text 70 words per minute, does he really need to learn cursive?
Dustin Ellis is a fourth-grade teacher at Big Springs Elementary School in Simi Valley and a Simi Education Association member.