The handwriting is NOT on the wall

Sep 21, 2013 by

EJ Montini –

At the parochial grade school where I was educated students received rigorous instruction in the Palmer Method, a technique of penmanship that we perfected over time by rhythmic repetition reinforced by the occasional whack on the shoulder, arm or knuckles by a switch-wielding nun.

Handwriting was not simply a means of expression in our school, but a thing of beauty.

We worked at mastering the method’s fluid script in class and were sent home with practice sheets to be completed overnight. (My father, who had lovely penmanship, did mine.)

Over many months and multiple bruises I managed to improve, slightly. The end result of this Spartan regimen was a boy who could produce elegant-looking sentences that may or may not be coherent.

In other words, perfect training for a newspaper columnist.

I fear for the future, however.

There are ominous signs on the horizon.

A recent headline in The Washington Post read: “Cursive writing disappearing from public schools.” Similar articles are popping up in news publications through the country under headlines like “Cursive: Crucial tool or just old school?” and “Cursive writing at risk in U.S.”

In New Jersey, where cursive instruction is not required, a woman created a “cursive club” in her grandson’s school when she found out that it was no longer part of the curriculum.

It’s a harbinger, a foreshadowing.

We must face it.

The handwriting is not on the wall.

Or the blackboard. Or the note paper. Or anywhere. At least not for long.

This would include Arizona, where the State Board of Education is implementing Common Core Standards, raising the requirements for math, reading and writing in hopes that it will better prepare students for college and careers. New standards mean more work for students, meaning some of the old requirements have to go. Cursive writing is one of them. Foremost among the education experts sought out to discuss the situation is Steve Graham, an education professor at Arizona State University.

I asked him if we should be worried that cursive writing may disappear.

“I get that question all the time,” he said, “and it completely misses the real story.”

(I explained that I was schooled in penmanship and not much else. But then, that was his point.)

“Writing by hand per se is not going away,” Graham said. “There is a hullabaloo over cursive handwriting, but the issue is much more nuanced than that. Kids will still write by hand. It may be more manuscript than cursive, but they will still write by hand. We don’t live in a world of just handwriting anymore. A lot of our composing now is digital and that is going to increase over time. The problem is not handwriting. The problem is that there is too little instruction in composing. Common Core changes that by emphasizing writing as a tool for learning. It emphasizes learning how to write persuasive, informative and narrative texts. That is going to push the curriculum a lot. Do you need to teach two forms of the same skill? Print and cursive? Or should we emphasize writing better?”

Traditionalists fear the loss of cursive.

Speaking from experience I would say with confidence that good handwriting might not make us smarter but it certainly makes us look smarter.

“Does cursive make you learn better? There’s really no evidence of that,” Graham said. “Kids typically have their best legibility with cursive in fourth grade. After that they begin to modify it to suit their needs. It changes a lot.”

In my case, the delicate flowing script of my youth has evolved into something reminiscent of an ancient Sanskrit/petroglyph combination.

“Whenever the discussion deals more with cursive writing than composition it’s like the tail wagging the dog,” Graham said. “We now have considerable evidence that when you write about what you read it makes a difference. When you write about what you are learning in the classroom it makes a difference. And when you teach writing kids get better at reading. Somehow, the handwriting issue has hijacked the bigger issue. I’ve probably done 150 interviews with reporters over the past 20 years. I would say that ten percent of them are on writing in general and 90 percent of them are on handwriting.”

Apparently, those of us schooled more in penmanship than in composition never learned the difference between write and wrong.

via The handwriting is NOT on the wall | Insiders.

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