Sunday, March 05, 2017

Cursive handwriting rises from the dead

Figure 1. Thoreau could walk around Walden Pond
 with a notebook and a pencil he made himself.
He knew that the hand  was connected to the brain, all right.
The AP announces that cursive handwriting is once again being taught in schools, after being sidelined in favor of printing (reasonable) and keyboarding (not).

The insistence that keyboarding alone would fill the gap assumed that people would have available at all times a keyboard, battery power, and wireless access.  Like Apple, which insists that the default should be using data on your phone to listen to music instead of downloading it, this assumes a level of financial privilege and an urban environment in which you're never out of range.

Where I live, you're out of range plenty of times. You're better off with a notebook and pencil, like Thoreau, and even if you're in range when walking in the woods, a notebook, unlike a phone, never talks back with little buzzing messages. You talk to it, in writing, and it listens.


I know I've written about this to the point of exhaustion (yours! sorry), citing everything from the class dimensions of not teaching cursive (ruling class needs it, grimy proles don't) to the uneasy alliance with American "traditionalists" who want it, but this point needs emphasis one more time, for two reasons.

First, the connections between hand and brain, as when you do something with your hands and it helps to rewire neural connections in your brain and create new areas, is well documented, as when students take notes by hand instead of typing them. True, you don't need cursive to do this, but I'm in favor of anything that gets students writing by hand because this connection is real and helps them in a way that keyboarding doesn't.

This is what Anne Trubek misses in her bestselling takedown of handwriting. In the new article, she says it's like piano lessons: you don't need them to succeed at life. What about the correlation (not causation, I know) between piano playing and math ability? Doesn't this hand-brain connection deserve more study?

Second, here comes that pesky class dimension and the humanities again. You might not need piano lessons, or music lessons, or art lessons, or a knowledge of literature, history, foreign languages, economics, and politics to succeed in life. But you can bet your bottom dollar that any little Trubeks, and any other middle-class children of aspiring parents, will have access to these "frills," even if the parents have to pay for them separately. Why? Because more knowledge is better and is a marker of future success, that's why. Trubek saying you don't "need" piano lessons is only part of the truth.  They're an added value that helps not only to develop the brain but helps students to succeed.

Figure 2. Lorelei Lee explains the economics of added value.
I'm reminded of what that great economist and philosopher Lorelei Lee says in the movie version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. When accused of marrying Gus for his money, she says, "Don't you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help?"

All those humanities frills, including cursive handwriting, do help. Why should they be reserved only for children whose parents are wealthy enough or savvy enough to ensure that their children get them?

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