A recent New York Times piece has renewed the debate about the value of teaching cursive handwriting in the elementary grades. The waning use of hand writing has been a concern since we started using personal computers (for instance, “Mourning the Demise of Penmanship,” 1997 and “Handwriting: Is it on the Wall?,” 2002). But now, political opponents of the new standards want to make it a Common Core issue. From the Times piece:
Does handwriting matter?
Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.
The first cite in the article, from a French psychologist, is really a rumination. Next, there’s a 2012 study led by Dr. Karin James concluding that handwriting is better than typing when a child is first learning to form letters and write. Actually, though, no one has proposed that kindergarteners learn to write on computers.
The author cites a potentially interesting study about differing neurological patterns between hand writing and typing but it’s complex and not easily available so it’s hard to figure out the bottom line.
Yet another study cited in the article says that it’s better to take notes by hand than on a laptop. But is anyone suggesting that college students will not know how to write by hand if they want to? Or maybe the worry is the students will have poor handwriting, like doctors and Diane Ravitch?
After all is said and done, though, there is actually nothing in the Common Core that prevents teaching cursive. In any case, how would a Common Core standard on cursive be tested? The Common Core standards are about learning, not testing, but a standard of any kind is really only a standard if a student can show how well she has mastered it. It’s hard to imagine to imagine a meaningful assessment of cursive handwriting.
None of this means that our schools should not teach cursive hand writing. But it’s not a Common Core issue.