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Cursive . . . Something Else I’ll Have to Teach this Summer
3/29/2011  •  Comment

     As the chances of my son being assigned to an “old school” teacher next year plummet in the face of retirement packages for those at the top of the pay scale, I realize that the chance of him learning and using cursive at school is quite low.  After all, the state doesn't test for it.

     Apparently, school administrators don’t consider writing in cursive to be a 21st century skill. It just doesn’t have the bling that mastering bubble tests and keyboarding has. One teacher quoted in the Denver Post said, "The kids don't like to write cursive, and it's always an argument every year. I decided it's a battle I don't want to fight anymore. “ Gee, I wonder what else the kids don't like to do – practice long division? learn grammar?

     A “technology teacher” who taught kindergarten for twelve years said “to make it required, I can't see that — because keyboarding is so much faster." Right – faster is better. Textspeak is faster too. Why bother to learn to write at all, then? There are plenty of textspeak translators available for the twentieth century types. I wonder how exactly knowledge of kindergarten pedagogy translates to being qualified to evaluate whether or not teaching cursive is useful for cognitive development anyway.

    Having earned my B.A. during the eighties, I remember well the transition from composing essays in long-hand to composing at the keyboard. I could feel that the thinking process differed greatly, though I didn’t think through why it was so.

    Recent research in Norway by Anne Mangen offers a clue:

          "Mangen refers to an experiment involving two groups of adults, in which the                 participants were assigned the task of having to learn to write in an unknown alphabet, consisting of approximately twenty letters. One group was taught to write by hand, while the other was using a keyboard. Three and six weeks into the experiment, the participants’ recollection of these letters, as well as their rapidity in distinguishing right and reversed letters, were tested. Those who had learned the letters by handwriting came out best in all tests [my emphasis]. Furthermore, fMRI brain scans indicated an activation of the Broca’s area within this group. [The Broca’s area of the brain is associated with speech production and language comprehension]. Among those who had learned by typing on keyboards, there was little or no activation of this area."

     It appears that keyboarding is not multi-sensory for acquiring language in the same way handwriting is. But then, as one teacher in our elementary school has been candid enough to admit, current early grade school curricula are not developmental.

Tags: cursive; curriculum; keyboarding