Senator Pam Roach introduced a bill last week in Olympia that would require schools to teach cursive writing. According to her, reading and writing in cursive is “part of being an American.” I don’t know about that, but as a third and fourth grade teacher with over thirty years’ experience, I do know a lot about cursive writing.
And what I know tells me that this bill is doomed. At least I hope it is.
First of all, I’m not sure cursive writing is all it’s cracked up to be. If it was, why aren’t we all using it? Why, for example, doesn’t Pam Roach herself use cursive when she signs her name? (Scroll down about one-third of the page.) I think it’s a nostalgia thing, associated with a simpler time, etc. From my experience, people learn cursive and then stop using it. Because they want to.
Especially people like me, who are left handed. The whole point of cursive, as I understand it, is to let the writing “flow across the page.” But when you’re pushing your pencil (as we do) instead of pulling it (the way the rest of you do) there’s nothing flowing at all about cursive.
Then there’s the main issue most teachers have with bills like this: TIME. Teaching cursive – teaching anything – takes time. And the last thing we have right now is time. Actually, most of us are trying to figure out how to squeeze in keyboarding practice. Partly because the tests our students take are computer-based, but mostly because everything else our students do in the future will be.
But my main issue with this bill is more complicated. A skill like cursive can be taught at a certain grade level (third, most likely) but then what? In order for that skill to be retained, it has to be reinforced from then on. In other words, teachers from fourth through twelfth need to review cursive writing. Not only that, cursive has to be required. Teachers have to make their students write in cursive.
If cursive writing isn’t reviewed and required at every grade level after it was first taught, the whole exercise was a waste of time. Pam Roach’s bill, if passed, would force school districts to include a cursive component the next time they purchase literacy materials. Which means it might force third grade teachers to use those materials. And third grade teachers, being the subordinate souls they are, would probably comply.
It would not, however, force the rest of the teaching force to review and require cursive writing. They would, of course, if they wanted to. If they felt it was important enough. But trust me; they don’t.
I hope Roach’s bill fails. I hate to see time and money wasted. I do see a certain value in cursive; I teach my students how to read it and how to um…sign their names with it.
But beyond that, I think we’re wasting our time.