collegial connections

reflections and musings from the School of Education at Mills College

On Cursive | Rachel Lefkowitz

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                                                         Rachel Lefkowitz Coordinator of Educational Leadership MA Program and Special Assistant to the Dean of School of Education

Rachel Lefkowitz
Coordinator of Educational Leadership MA Program and Special Assistant to the Dean of School of Education

When CUSP Director Ingrid Seyer-Ochi was on a HuffPost Live panel about teaching cursive, I was intrigued. I had no idea people felt so strongly about the subject. I followed my curiosity to the internet, in search of articles on the subject to post to our social media. There’s almost no end of thought here: People who believe we will lose our connection to history if we don’t teach cursive; people who believe that classroom time can be spent better than teaching an out-moded style of communication; people who wonder how a generation raised only on printing will sign their names; and so on.

I was not taught cursive. At the private school I attended, only children who were able to master a kind of joined-up printing were graduated to cursive; I was not one of them. (Even today, my S’s defy description.) But this wasn’t really a problem for me: Almost no one I knew then, or know now, uses it even though they were taught it. Instead, we all write in a combination of print and script, creating our own style. As one friend confessed, when she writes in cursive her handwriting looks like a third-grader’s.

I know of three people who write exclusively in cursive: My grandmother, my father, and one of my old employers. I can’t read most of what my father and my boss write, but that’s because neither one is particularly dexterous; they would probably be illegible in any script or print. I can read my grandmother’s fine cursive and most historical documents easily. Interestingly, my friends and the internet have taught me that these documents haven’t all been written in the same kind of cursive. There are different methods for script, and each has been popular at different times in history and in different parts of the world, in part because different kinds of writing implements were used.

My mother doesn’t know cursive either. She was taught a very legible and efficient print style at her private school in the 1940s. I asked my mother and some of her classmates if not knowing cursive has hindered them in any way. They were all fairly bored. My mother confessed that she studied cursive on her own, but only so that she could sign her name. Another woman observed that other progressive schools at that time did not teach cursive. A third woman, peppier than the rest, described the absence of cursive instruction at the school as “infantilizing and classist.”

That response made me think. We probably aren’t just talking about cursive when we talk about cursive, but about questions of class, equality, and access. That’s nothing new; many issues of curriculum and instruction include those questions. But currently, not knowing cursive marks me and a few others as the product of private schools where teaching it was optional. It may soon be that cursive will become the domain of those same schools, as they find a way to teach it when public schools are no longer mandated to do so.

Written by collegialconnections

April 26, 2013 at 10:19 am

2 Responses

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  1. I’m not in favor of cursive just for the sake of cursive, but I am in favor of real teaching of printing at least. I used to teach third grade, which was when our district teaches it. Now I teach second. I’m appalled at the formations my second-grade students make of both letters and numbers. It’s because lower grades don’t teach printing enough. By the time they come to second, their letter formations are already habitual. (For some unknown reason, the letter “d” is the worst!) D’Nealian printing paves the way for cursive. But on another whole level, teaching printing and/or cursive later is also about fine motor control, hand/eye coordination, attention to detail and observation. There’s mind-body connection issues going on here. I’d like to see printing instruction, at least, maintained, and not tossed out so we can drill-and-kill and test-prep even more minutes in the week.

    Judi Burle

    May 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    • I agree with you about printing! I spent hours learning it, and my mother’s handwriting is so legible because she did too.

      Rachel Lefkowitz

      May 7, 2013 at 9:22 am

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