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Post Script

Tingley-021 color-1 It’s raining and the third graders sit silently at their desks on the second floor of the old school building.  On occasion a child raises her head to gaze out the tall beveled windows that need to be opened and closed with a long pole in the spring and fall.  The rain is steady; it’s a good day for children to be hunched over their desks like miniature Bartlebys, painstakingly tracing the cursive letters arrayed in graceful dots on their worksheets.  They peek at the cursive alphabet posted above the blackboard; a long, sweeping line of capital letters with their smaller regular case siblings beside them.  Doesn’t the capital Q look like a big 2?  The capital X has lines that kiss but don’t cross.  Open the little e; close the little i.  Point and dip and point again – the little r.  It’s hard.

The best thing about third grade:  learning to write cursive.  It takes time, perseverance, and practice, but it’s grown-up writing, not little kid printing.  Writing in longhand shows you’re older.

Looks as if those days are over.  The Common Core State Standards for English do not require cursive.  Over Cursive forty states have adopted the standards so far, and the emphasis is on learning and demonstrating not penmanship, but keyboard skills.  “With guidance and support from adults,” says the Core document for Grade 3, “students will use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboard skills). “  In Grade 4, students will “use technology … to produce and publish writing and demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.”

Learning keyboarding skills is a good thing, of course.  Even before the Common Core Standards were adopted, many states had already abandoned teaching cursive as the elementary curriculum became more crammed with other items like test prep and technology.  In truth, I suspect that some new teachers never learned to write proper cursive themselves and are not comfortable teaching it anyway. 

Still, not everyone is pleased with the decision, and some states like California and Massachusetts have even re-introduced cursive into the elementary curriculum.  Among the concerns raised: If children do not learn to write their names in cursive, will they be permitted to sign their unemployment checks in block print letters?  Will children be able to read the cursive writings of historical literature?  And from the BBC: "The fluidity of cursive allows for gains in spelling and a better tie to what they are reading and comprehending through stories and through literature… there is a firmer connection of wiring between the brain's processes of learning these skills and the actual practice of writing."

This latter point is interesting and will probably eventually be decided by research.  In the meantime, kids still think it's fun to write their names distinctively, individually, in script.



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