The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 17, 2013

Murray: The dying art of cursive belongs in our schools

By Robb Murray
rmurray@mankatofreepress.com

---- — I can't sit here in all honesty and say I really, really enjoyed my time learning cursive.

Long hours of repeating the same upper case Rs and lower case Ws — writing out in so-called longhand "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" — doesn't create a lot of fond memories.

But there's a certain Zen in cursive. Most of us have average handwriting. But when done well, good cursive can almost stop you in your tracks. It can be beautiful, soothing, even artistic. Good cursive writing can be hypnotic to watch.

My cursive isn't all that good. Actually, if anyone ever tried to read through one of my notebooks that I've used to cover a news event, you'd swear it was the piece of paper everyone in the newsroom used to check if their pens had any ink left in them. It's atrocious. I'm not proud of it. But I can read it just fine ... Most days, anyway.

Why am I bringing this up?

Because the march of progress — the one that has turned our kids in to phone-carrying zombies and slaves to the latest handset upgrade and operating system version — is turning cursive into a casualty all over the country.

A bunch of states recently developed a new curriculum for public schools that eliminates teaching cursive in favor of things such as keyboarding. The thinking is this: as we progress through the digital age, the need to be digitally literate is only going to get more important. By the time kids in elementary school reach adulthood, occasions for them to need cursive are going to be rare.

You can count me in the digital crowd. Because I write for a living, and because I have to write a lot for publication, I'm constantly at a keyboard. And I can't remember the last time I sat down with a pen and a fresh sheet of stationary intent on writing someone a letter just for the sake of writing them a letter. So I understand the argument that the future is coming (and in many cases, is already here.)

Still, the idea of cursive disappearing is, to me, sad.

Call me crazy, but I still like the idea of putting pen to paper, or at least the idea of learning to put pen to paper. And because I was writing this column today, I called over to the Mankato Area Public Schools to see if they're still teaching cursive.

Heather Mueller, director of teaching and learning, said cursive is still alive and well.

"We start teaching it in third grade, in fourth grade we review it, and in fifth it's used consistently," Mueller said.

There have been conversations about getting rid of it in Mankato schools, she said. But at this point they still believe it has value, and that it contributes to students' overall educational experience.

Researchers found recently that the motions of cursive can actually enhance a student's eye-hand coordination, develop fine motor skills and make kids better readers and writers.

Which sort of flies in the face of other recent trends.

A recent Pew Research study found that 95 percent of teens use the Internet, 37 percent of them use smart phones to go online, and phone users are sending an average of 60 text messages daily. (And they can probably text "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" a lot faster than you can do it in cursive.)

And I really don't have a problem with that. I'm just glad the Mankato kids are still sitting in their little desks, holding their pencils in the proper Palmer Method way — methodically scrawling out those Ss that look like treble clefs, and the Qs that look like 2s — even if their iPhones are buzzing away in their backpacks, alerting them to text messages, tweets and the latest updates from the around the globe.

 

Robb Murray can be reached at (507) 344-6386, or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com.