Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Demise of Cursive Writing

Affirmation:  I am a life-long learner.

The conversation with my children was about writing.  It wasn't about creative writing, it was about penmanship.  Well there's an old fashioned word.  I didn't know how outdated it was until we had this discussion.  I was informed by my adult daughter, Melissa, that cursive writing was no longer part of the core curriculum in the North Carolina school system.  After the third grade, children are not taught how to write long-hand.  I'm still in shock.  I've been writing three pages of long-hand in my journal every morning for over fifteen years.  My adult son, Joey, went onto say that he almost never uses a pen or a pencil.  When he does, he finds them awkward to use.  His writing method is almost always a keyboard.  Penmanship is no longer considered an essential life skill.

That certainly wasn't true when I was in school.  The cursive alphabet was on long strips of black paper resting above the black board.  Yes, the board was black, not white and we used chalk not erasable magic markers.  There were several lines on the paper and each one was a height that determined where a loop, a "t", an "i" or a capital letter was to land on the page.  We were handed blank lined pages and the students tried to copy the letters onto the paper from the form above the boards.  We used number 2 pencils with erasers.  I loved it!  I liked the form and the lines for guidance and the feel of the pencil on the paper and I loved seeing the letters take shape and appear on the page.  I became a math teacher later in life.  I was never much for coloring outside the lines so it seems fairly understandable why I liked the rigid format that was used to learn cursive. 

I've always been fascinated by hand writing.  Some is so legible and others completely illegible.  Some is neat and clean and others are sloppy.  Some is flowery and others are straight up and down.  People have made a living "reading" hand writing.  They are supposed to be able to figure out a person's personality from what their hand writing looks like.  Not anymore!  Did you ever watch a detective show where the sleuth looked at a type written note and determined whether someone was right handed or left handed because of how some of the letters appeared darker; they had been hit harder by the dominant hand?  Not anymore!  I went to summer school to learn how to type.  My mother told me it was an invaluable life skill.  She was right!  The key board I use today is laid out exactly the same as the one that was on my manual typewriter.  If you don't know what a typewriter looks like, Google it. But, they don't teach typing in school anymore either.  I think it comes already hard wired in the brains of anyone born after 1990.  I've seen two year olds working a computer key board. 

Reading, writing and arithmetic were the three "Rs" that we were told were the core skills we would need for life.  The question about why we needed to learn mathematics when most people would never use it once they were out of school is decades old.  As a math teacher, I sometimes wondered the same thing but I knew the value of making the brain work in different ways and for me there was always a great satisfaction in solving a problem correctly.  I loved solving the "puzzle." But, it's true; most people didn't have any use for Algebra or Geometry or Trig. once they have finished with the class.  Now, most people don't even need to know the basics of math.  There's a calculator on every phone.  It appears to be one more life skill we no longer need. 

So, that leaves reading as the last core skill we were told we needed.  I can't imagine not reading. I love a good book.  Recently I had cataract surgery and the lenses that were implanted were determined by whether or not I read books and papers regularly or if I read from a computer.  Can you imagine not being able to read?  There are organizations dedicated to teaching adults how to read.  It seems it still is an essential life skill.  But, I wonder will that always be true?  Recently, I downloaded an app called OverDrive.  It allows me to connect to my library and to download audio books onto my phone or iPad.  I can then listen to the book wherever and whenever I want.  I know there have been audio books for decades but now they are prolific and free; for many it's their preferred way to "read" a book.  What does this foretell?

If we don't need to learn the three "Rs" any longer, what do we need to learn or even more important, what do we need to be teaching?  What are the schools focusing on that is preparing our young people to live meaningful, productive lives?  We have several people in the family who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder.  I know it is more commonly diagnosed today than ever before.  I'm not sure if it's because more people struggle with it or because we're more knowledgeable about it.  My youngest grandson was really struggling in his traditional middle school because of ADD.  We were fortunate to find a small private local school that had a different, more hands-on approach to learning.  Once there he blossomed both mentally and emotionally.  His learning "style" needed a place with a different environment in order for it to take root.  What is he learning at his new school that is different from the other one?  He's learning how to learn. 

Let's face it all the information we need or want to learn  is available to us in one form or another.  Today it's even more readily available because of our access to the Internet.  I am in awe of the range of information available online.  There are lessons on everything!  There are lessons about things I probably don't want know anything about.  I have, however, looked up music lessons and how to fix different things.  My son uses the Internet to renovate equipment, like boats, cars, engines and all sorts of electronic equipment.  The other day our refrigerator broke down and the first thing we did, after throwing away the perishables was to go online to see if we could diagnose it and fix it ourselves.  Owen is always telling me about different places he's never been to or about scientific data he's looked up.  It's beyond exciting!  Back in March of 2013 he pretended to be a reporter and interviewed Galileo about his theories.  My husband, Sandy, played the role of the famous scientist.  It was for Owen's science project.  Everyone learned something and it was fun. 

I'd like to think that our educational system is closely examining what our young people need to learn in order to be productive healthy citizens.  What do you think the new core skills should be?  It seems to me one of the most important ones would be to learn how to learn.  Owen is an experiential learner.  Once he discovered that, he found he can learn whatever he wants.  I am mainly an auditory learner.  If I had known that earlier on, learning would have come a lot easier to me.  Some of us are visual; others need a variety of approaches. Once we've learned how to gather the information, the rest is just doing it.  But what other core skills do we want our children to master?  What are the essential life skills?  If it's true we learn all we need to know in Kindergarten, what are we doing with the rest of our years of schooling?  How about focusing on the Golden Rule?  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  How about the Ten Commandments?  What about relationship skills: how to resolve conflict, how to create community, how to get your needs met without hurting another?  What if the three "Rs" morphed into the three "Cs": compassion, communication and cooperation? 

Yes, we still need to know how to read and write, if not in cursive than at least we need to know how to compose a grammatically correct sentence.  But, the key to all of this is it's not so much what we learn but that we do learn and not just while we're in school but for as long as we're alive.  Expand your knowledge.  Go out there and learn about life, learn about living, learn whatever it is that makes you feel fully alive.  Then perhaps you'll write about it.  Perhaps you'll share it with the world.  Who knows maybe someday someone will download it and listen to it. 

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