The Organic Curriculum
Cursive writing instruction is on the chopping block. Proponents of cursive say that it’s a traditional skill that has been passed down through generations almost as an art form. They note that children love learning how to sign their names. Some even say that if we don’t teach children cursive, they won’t be able to read the Declaration of Independence in its original form.
Common Core allows individual states or communities to make
their own decisions regarding teaching cursive, but many schools have abandoned
the practice, calling it “obsolete.” I,
of course, was taught cursive in elementary schools and remember, as some of
you do, the black and white posters of cursive
capital and small letters posted
above the blackboard (why did the capital “Q” look like a giant 2?).
Today I use cursive to sign my name and make out a grocery list. As for reading the Declaration, I had to phonetically memorize the prologue to The Canterbury Tales in college and I couldn’t read or write Old English. So as kids learn to use computers and text on smart phones as preschoolers, maybe the need to teach cursive is more sentimental than practical.
Abandoning cursive will allow more time for one of Common Core’s additions: more nonfiction. Reading and English teachers have complained bitterly about not getting to teach novels that have been part of the curriculum for the last 40 years. Some worry that the “dryness” of nonfiction will turn kids off. As a former English teacher, I believe there’s room for reading of all kinds, and some of today’s nonfiction reads like an interesting story. Take, for example, Mary Roach’s new book, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. Earlier books are Stiff, about cadavers; and Bonk, about – you guessed it.
If you had the good fortune to see Roach’s latest interview on The Daily Show, you know that she is entertaining and funny. You understand the science behind the book, but you’ll also discover how Elvis really died in the chapter entitled, “I’m All Stopped Up.” She investigates the day-to-day work of scientists and shares some of their experiments – like the one to find out if a mealworm can eat its way out of a toad’s stomach. In an NPR interview, Roach said that she wants readers to say not, “This is gross,” but instead, “I thought this would be gross, but it’s really interesting. OK, and maybe a little gross.” Kids don’t care whether a book is labeled fiction or nonfiction; they care if it’s interesting and readable – and maybe just a tiny bit gross.
Curriculum is organic,fluid, constantly changing. We need to be continually adding some items and subtracting others to fit our current students’ needs.