To Cursive or Not to Cursive: That’s Not the Point!

EduSanity is pleased to again feature the writing of Dr. Donna Wake, Associate Dean of Education at the University of Central Arkansas and most importantly, Mia’s mom. Donna is a 2011 Teacher Consultant of the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project and has taught nearly all grades through graduate school.

I recently posted a screenshot of a blog post on my Facebook page. The image showed a summary of two bills recently passed on the floor of the state legislature. The first bill mandated a computer science class for all public high school students. The second bill required that cursive writing be taught to all elementary public school students.

Cursive CruiserI posted the screenshot because I found the juxtaposition of the two bills to be startling. While one mandate has a foot in the 1700s (literally the argument was that cursive writing should be taught so kids could read the Declaration of Independence), the other has a foot in this century. A pretty wide spread.

I did not anticipate the flurry of responses that post would receive. Few people commented on the mandate for a computer class, but I was inundated with posts regarding the sanctity and usefulness of cursive writing. My followers told me tales of their children learning to write in cursive and how important that skill was to learn. They accused me of being liberal and left-wing. They accused me of being an extremist and un-American. They fueled each other’s anger with me.

Initially I attempted to defend my position, but I soon stopped and just watched the conversations progress. And soon I began to see what was happening. The fact that this debate, as ridiculous as I found it, even occurred was symptomatic of a larger problem in education. This debate was spurious. Whether or not our children learn cursive simply does not matter.

What is important here is that this debate is distracting us from far more important issues besieging kids and teacher and schools today. Issues such as testing. Such as standards. Such as accountability. Such as merit pay for teachers. Such as the degradation of the public school system and the growing presence of charters and voucher systems.

In short, this debate about cursive writing, and other similarly distracting non-topics, is shifting our focus away from the damage being done to education, to teachers, and to students. It’s taking us away from conversations about how to empower teachers and kids in our public systems.

Furthermore, laws like this “cursive mandate” are symptomatic of a system where lawmakers with little to no background in education are making rules that impact larger numbers of kids, teachers, and families. Cursive is a faded skill for a reason. We no longer give a grade in penmanship for a reason.  There are bigger and more important issues on which to focus our attention and time.

So, let me break it down for you. This is what I want my Cursive Capdaughter to learn in school. I want her to learn to think critically. To analyze. To create. I want her to learn to love to read. I want her to invent. To organize. To collaborate. I want her to learn to have empathy and to help others. I want her to criticize. To compare, contrast, and categorize. I want her to make decisions. To assess. To choose. To defend. To find errors. To estimate and measure. I want her to predict. To debate. To listen to and respect the perspectives of others. I want her to design. To modify and mix and meld. I want her to learn to infer and to imply. I want her to explain her thinking. I want her to evaluate her own thinking and thinking and those of others. I want her to learn deductive and inductive reasoning. I want her to solve. To calculate. To break down and then build. I want her to experiment. I want her to dramatize. I want her to role-play. I want her to paint, sculpt, sketch, and model. I want her to prepare and to be surprised. I want her to learn to love learning. I want her to be a life-long learner. I want her to self-actualize, self-regulate, self-direct. I want her efficacy to be strong. I want her to ask questions. Lots of questions. I want her to be learn resourcefulness and problem solving. I want her to take risks and make mistakes. I want her to have voice and choice. I want her to learn to fail and to fail gracefully. I want her to discuss. I want her to value diversity. I want her to advocate for herself and for others. I want her to learn social justice and service to others.  I want her to be happy.

And yes, I want her to learn to write. I want her to write to see her thinking on paper. I want her to write to analyze an argument. I want her to write to interpret her experiences or whatever topic she is exploring. I want her to write so she will know herself. I want her to write to evaluate the world around her. I want her to write to advocate for herself and others. I want her to write because she likes it.

And folks, whether she does it in cursive is absolutely irrelevant.