I will preface this by saying I am a creative person. I actively support and actively practice many arts. I know what creativity is, and why it matters. I am also a pragmatic person. I want to be and say and create what will have the most constructive impact.
I have been lurking on the fringes of an online debate about education and cursive writing.
The entire ‘debate’ (and I use that term loosely) is rooted in nostalgia and has no practical relationship to the actual purpose of the education system.
The skills necessary in the workplace have changed dramatically in the last two generations. As the world changes the skills needed to navigate our world also change. The destination has changed, so the path taken must also change.
What has not changed is notable. Children still have a finite capacity for active instruction. There are still a finite number of hours in the day. The education system still needs to prepare young people for the realities of the workplace.
As a result, time and attention once paid to teaching cursive writing has been supplanted by time and attention allotted to teaching computer literacy.
In its time, cursive was taught for specific reasons. It increased the speed of written communication. Signatures were used as a means of identifying a person.
Neither of these reasons is valid in a modern context.
Handwriting is too slow to keep up with modern expectations in communication. Cursive is also frequently illegible, which slows down communication and introduces a margin of error.
One argument for cursive claims it nurtures ‘creativity’. First of all, the act of writing itself regardless of the method, is creativity. Hemingway typed. Cursive tends to be more difficult to read accurately precisely BECAUSE it lends itself to creativity; which is why official forms always ask you to print your name and information. Another cursive defense claims that humans evolved to have a relationship with the written word. Written communication did not evolve, we created it. Evolution is passive, creation is active. We evolved to recognize patterns, and used that pattern recognition to create written language. In fact, recognition is improved when the pattern is most consistent, and as I said before, cursive varies and on depends too many factors. Anyone who has tried to read a doctor’s script knows that is true.
Clarity and efficiency of communication are paramount. There are ways to teach creativity that are not antithetical to modernity.
There are better ways to identify a person. A signature is not a secure method of establishing identity, in large part because more of what we do is done via technology that does not accommodate pen and paper. Even learning to forge signature is old hat these days.
Another concern is that our children will not be able to understand what we write. Let’s not forget, they are still being taught to print. How often is it entirely necessary that we write? It is not just our children who need to adapt to the modern world. If you must, print. It will probably be more legible anyway.
Let’s stop mistaking wistfulness for educational fundamentalism, and stop basing our future on a nostalgia tinged belief in the inerrancy of “the way things have always been done around here’. Cursive writing is an anachronism in the modern classroom. We don’t teach children math on an abacus anymore.
Go right ahead and insist your child learn cursive. Then one day he will be able to sign his job application with a lovely signature. I will continue to insist my son learn modern skills. My son will be able to print his skills and competencies on his resume. My son will get the job.