|Figure 1. This signature of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew
looks a lot like that of many job applicants.
On one level they have a point. If the students are going to be tested to death--unless Michelle Rhee is in the picture, in which case the teachers cheat or get fired if their students don't get the right test scores*--maybe that half hour a day isn't best spent on practicing writing. I have a couple of observations and questions, as always:
- Students are still going to have to write (as in "not type") essays in classroom situations for a while, so as long as I can read what they write and they can read what I write in response, I don't care whether they print or not.
- Will they be able to read handwriting? The article treats this as some kind of ridiculously trivial skill, like knowing the best way to powder a wig.
- It's faster for me to write in cursive, but maybe that's because I was taught cursive (and retrained myself through calligraphy later on). That makes me a dinosaur, and I accept my scaliness with pride. Maybe instead of "digital natives" we should be talking about "print-writing natives" as the real generational divide.
- Some have said that cursive is needed so that people can sign documents and isn't used otherwise, sort of like that kind of literacy in the 19th century when people knew enough to sign their names but were otherwise illiterate. I don't whether cursive is necessary there, though. In reading job letters over the past few years, I've noticed that a lot of the candidates sign their names with just a squiggle like a sine curve or a couple of loops rather than with a name that you can read. I'm not sure why this is so, or whether it's a trend, but I thought it was interesting.
- I'm puzzled by why we keep wanting students to know less and less. Don't bother memorizing multiplication tables or learning how to make change--who needs it? Don't bother learning another language or having language departments, because Real Americans are proudly ignorant of any language but their own. (Remember the flack John Kerry took because he could speak French?) Don't bother learning to write in cursive, because unless you're going into a profession where people must read handwriting (such as being an academic), it's a useless skill.
- Or it might end up being a kind of class-based skill, the way knowing Latin and Greek were once the marks of a gentleman. The rich need to know how to write in cursive; we worker drones don't have to know it. It sounds silly, but it may be part of that larger trend now toward cutting out "useless" knowledge that doesn't prepare students to get a job, when employers actually want good writing and thinking skills.
- The thing that handwriting of any kind (not just cursive) does best is to allow the brain to make marks on paper through the fingers and thus help the retention of knowledge, as some of us have written about. It's not the same as typing, even on a manual typewriter, which seems to be making a comeback.
- Here's what I don't understand: aren't all the Edumacrats screaming about "hands on! hands on! Learning must be hands on!"? Here is a hands-on type of learning that, let's face it, forces a kind of attention and focus as well as training the brain. Even if they're not in favor of cursive, wouldn't you think they'd like its hands-on qualities?