Common Core

Don't Replace Common Core With Cursive—Cursive Is Pointless

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Handwriting
Alison Wood / Wikimedia Commons

Plenty of states are pulling back from full implementation of Common Core, the national education curriculum standards pushed by the Obama administration and certain Republican governors. The standards have drawn criticism from libertarians, conservatives, and even teachers unions who worry about an erosion of local and parental autonomy over schooling decisions.

However, Tennessee is modifying Common Core in at least one discouraging way: state officials are going to re-require that kids study cursive.

Readers born after 1995 may not know this, but cursive is a system of hand-drawn, swoopy, loopy ink marks that represent letters and words. People used to "write" notes to each other (instead of typing, you see). It was a real pain for us left-handed folks, who tend to smear everything we write by hand, rendering it unreadable and getting ink all over our wrists.

But even though typing outmodes cursive in just about every way, Tennessee legislators passed a bill that would require kids in second, third, and fourth grade to study the "lost art," according to Reuters:

Schools are expected to start bringing back the declining art of cursive in 2015-2016 under the new rules, signed into law this year by Governor Bill Haslam.

Keyboarding and print writing will still have their place, but legible penmanship will be required by third grade.

"I am surprised we have stopped teaching it in some places," said Gary Nixon, executive director of the Tennessee School Board. "It's an art that is losing its form because of the keyboard."

But pretty much nobody else sees the point:

For millennials, cursive is quaint and not much more.

"It's kind of like hopping on a Pogo stick. If you can do it, great, but if not, it doesn't matter," said Cory Woodroof, 21, a student at Lipscomb University in Nashville who felt grade school handwriting classes were wasted time.

Also at Lipscomb, 20-year-old Janice Ng of Singapore said she took immersion studies in English back home but "they didn't mention cursive. It's not used."

If kids really wanted to learn cursive, that would be one thing. Ideally, they would simply petition their school officials to schedule a few lessons. Kids shouldn't be bound to rigid curriculum standards handed down by distant authorities, unable to concentrate on study areas that interest them—that's the whole problem with Common Core.

But replacing national standards with a weird requirement clearly thrown in for sheer nostalgia by change-averse local planners isn't so great either. (And it really isn't great for left-handed kids.)

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  1. It was a real pain for us left-handed folks…

    The nuns forced my old man to write right-handed. If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for you, Soave.

    1. See? Another Socon calling for religious oppression!

  2. Have you seen Millenials’ handwriting? It tends towards the atrocious. I really don’t envision a future in which handwriting goes away entirely, and I plan to teach my kids to at least be able to write a quick note.

    1. Printing. That’s all you need.

      1. Cursive isn’t pointless. I’m not advocating that government force kids to learn it, but studies do show that it’s similar to learning another language.

        If you understand cursive and print, your mind has to switch back and forth between two different representations of the same idea. Which is an excellent intermediate step to more critical thinking when kids get older.

        1. Or you could just start with the second language and skip the cursive part.

          1. This is true. I believe the study linked cursive to how well information was retained.

            Ah, here’s where I read it.
            http://www.farnamstreetblog.co…..-keyboard/

      2. They can’t print, either.

      3. I tend to disagree. Being old enough to know that electronic data formats and media are not stable, I’d hate to loose my notebooks to a change or failure in technology. Besides, what’s more secure than writing my lab notes in a cursive so bad that it requires the use of a secret decoder ring to decipher, even by me?

        Seriously, while I’m willing to drink the libertarian coolaid about the evils of Common core, this is probably one case were Reason might rethink its position.

        1. I totally agree that Common Core is evil – and I will defend cursive to my last day. I’m a freakin’ programmer and I STILL write notes in hand every day, and printing is just too slow.

          1. I agree. Even if they prefer to print, I expect my children to learn how to read and write in cursive. There are still forms to be filled out, lab notebooks to be written, class notes to be written… And the act of writing helps with information retention in a way that typing does not.

            Communication is essential. I don’t care what you know or where your specialties lie, if you can’t communicate effectively, your knowledge is useless.

            Part of that is being able to write legibly and with proper spelling and grammar.

  3. Cursive! Foiled again!

  4. I studied cursive in early grades. The moment it was no longer required for school assignments, I never used it again. Once I was allowed to type, I scaled back on longhand all together.

    1. I stopped by sixth grade (1977). I thought I’d get yelled at but all the teachers really appreciated printing as it was much easier to read.

    2. I still use it to write checks. I don’t have a rational reason for this.

      1. I did that too until just recently.

        But how do people sign their names without cursive?

        1. There is the one reason it is still necessary. You can’t have a printed signature.

          1. Considering the squiggles that some people call their sig, it just has to be a distinctive line drawing.

          2. My “signature” is only decipherable by a handwriting expert. Anything unique to you is valid.

            And also this:

            What about signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind.

          3. You can’t have a printed signature.

            I started signing checks when I was a paperboy at 8 years old. Since my cursive was so abhorrent, I printed my name. I still do. I have signed everything with my printed signature.

  5. I’m left handed. The smearing thing really hasn’t been much of an issue since I stopped using fountain pens in the 3rd grade. I write in cursive most of the time if I’m writing by hand, because it’s so much faster than printing.

    1. Same here. Actually, I never used fountain pens, but pencils were horrible when it came to smearing. I used a ballpoint pen for every assignment that I could.

      Also, cursive made it a lot easier to take notes in college.

      1. I stopped writing in cursive (except for checks!) in college because note taking required printing.

        Oh, yeah, it was mostly formulas and equations and stuff.

        Try doing calculus in cursive.

        1. Newton did calculus in cursive.

          But try deciphering what he wrote.

          1. I know he wrote it out without symbols, but was it in cursive?

        2. I print everything on the check, except the amount, which is cursive. I don’t know why it happens, and I can’t stop myself from doing it.

          Only write about one check a month, anyway.

        3. That’s just silly. I studied comp sci, so I had plenty of math classes. There was still plenty to write in my CS classes, core classes, etc.

        4. What about all of the non-latin characters, most of them require a degree of fluidity that you don’t get with printing.

    2. Yup. If you ever have to take notes quickly, cursive helps a lot.

  6. I still write in cursive – all my notes at work, etc. (that i don’t type).

    I hated penmanship in school and never wrote terribly neatly.

    After my initial “get off my lawn” when I first heard cursive writing is passing on, further reflection suggests there’s nothing to mourn with its passing.

    Good riddance. Worse comes to worst, you can print.

  7. Writing, whether cursive or print, smears if you’re left-handed, but it’s nothing compared to the agony of having to use terrible scissors.

    1. it’s nothing compared to the agony of having to use terrible scissors.

      The sinister must suffer, I guess.

    2. Goddamn spiral notebooks were worse than scissors, imo.

      1. Yes, this.

        1. This is a triggering conversation!

    3. Heh, I actually learned to use right-handed scissors in 1st grade because the left-handed ones couldn’t cut through warm butter. I guess I could have taught myself how to write as a righty also, but I suspect I figured at the time that was the only right-handed thing I’d ever need to do.

  8. Maybe the president never learn cursive so that is why he can’t seem to read the constitution…

    Seriously though some of our more important documents are written in cursive and pardon my paranoia but if the whitehouse.gov website has already attempted to rewrite the second amendment… who is to say that the original won’t get “mistranslated” at some point in the future?

    1. Oh, you think those documents still mean something?

    2. Do you digress into anti-Obama tirades in every topic Dr.D? Your post reads like a parody of an angry Teabagger.

      1. GET OFF MY CONSTITUTION!!!

        *shakes Gadsden flag*

    3. Agreed, and cursive certainly hasn’t been wiped from the planet, meaning both important historical documents and a great deal of first-hand documents (including very recent) are written in cursive.

  9. How can you not love cursive? It makes writing fun!

    1. My handwriting mark kept me from having straight As in 3rd grade and cost me that year’s performance money.

      I have never used a cursive letter since.

      Fuck cursive.

      /end childhood trauma rant

      1. When I was in third grade, I already knew my two older sisters who were now in 9th and 6th grade had long ago abandoned writing in cursive.

        So I was left wondering, why am I fucking doing this?

  10. Well that’s good. It means us old timers will be able to pass notes to each other that the young folks won’t be able to read.

    1. My fifth grade students (when I was teaching here) tried to do that with Hangul (the phonetic Korean writing system). I feel a bit bad that they happened to pick it up right around the time I was studying Korean, it would’ve totally fucked with other teachers.

    2. Yup. The decline of cursive makes me more likely than ever to use it over printing.

  11. Now in old sea movies nobody will be able to read what the Captain is writing in his logbook.

    1. All kidding aside, reading other people’s writing is why we teach our kid to write in cursive.

      1. “Three days out of Jamaica a sudden squall has driven us far to the south. Water rations running low and the men are growing restful…”

        1. Ima guess “restful” was meant to be “restive”…?

          NO?

          Well, then…go on….

  12. Damn it, mandatory cursive writing AND Latin. And Xenophon’s On the Art of Horsemanship should be required reading.

    Also, left handed writing is the Devil’s work. Left handedness is sinister (literally if one knows their Latin). Left handedness should have been beaten out of you right from the beginning. I don’t think my grandmother (father’s mother) ever forgave my mother for allowing my brother to grow up left handed.

    And now I must be off. I am carving runes into some rocks formations before that fearsomely hot, yellow disk falls out of the sky again.

    1. I taught myself to write right-handed. Took a long time but a lot of problems went away. Plus I do everything else right-handed so I was never really left-handed anyway.

      1. Turncoat! Burn him! Burn him!

        1. The annoying thing is while my right-handed cursive actually looks better than my left-handed ever did, I still can’t DRAW for shit with my right hand. So I find myself switching hands all the time when I’m taking notes at work.

  13. We should all write in cursive so the NSA won’t be able to decipher it.

    1. I don’t believe “reading” is a hiring requirement for the TSA. So…

  14. Oh no! Woe is us! We’re losing the art of cursive. This is very important because when I was young, I learned cursive. So how is it possible that kids don’t learn it now?!?!

    FWIW, my mom is about 70 yo. When she was a kid, she learned calligraphy in school. She tried to teach me, but I couldn’t care less.

    Here’s a suggestion… every old person that demands kids learn cursive should be forced to learn something useful like html. Other than my signature, I haven’t used cursive in about 25 years. I wish I had skills with stuff like html.

    1. I know cursive and html.

      1. I wish I did. I’m somewhat ambivalent about cursive. Knowing it doesn’t hurt me; I just don’t use it. I don’t mourn the lost hours of 3rd grade education that could’ve been better focused on something else.

        But html is actually useful and something I should probably teach myself. I think it’s a more valuable thing to teach kids. Over time there will be new languages, but the principal is the same. I learned how to program in Basic, then Turbo Pascal, then C. I wouldn’t use any of them today, but the logic concepts of programming endure.

        1. HTML is like assembly language; no one is actually developing anything directly in HTML. They’re doing it in something else that gets run through a compiler or interpreter that spits incomprehensible HTML out the other end.

    2. “This is very important because when I was young…..So how is it possible that kids don’t learn it now?!?!”

      This logic pretty much sums up the anti-reform stance in education.

  15. So, clearly, what we need is national subsidies for Cowboy Poetry Cursive Writing Skeelz courses (and a museum) to ensure this important piece of our past is retained for future generations.

    As one schooled in and knowledgeable of said “art”, I hereby volunteer to begin this process for the sum of one BILLION dollars. For this year. Next year we’ll prolly need $5B, but we’ll worry about that later.

    Glad I can be of service to the country!

  16. As a lefty, my biggest problem is with those F)*^^&%^ dry erase boards. By the time I finish a line, I’ve erased half of it.

    1. I got pretty decent at writing on a white board without my hand touching it, but it looks really exaggerated to be legible. I had some kids randomly pick up the serif ‘a’ because I was using it to differentiate it from ‘o’. Their other teachers were really confused by it.

    2. Sounds like a(n apocryphal) German professor I heard about who instructed his class “you vill translate:” and started writing with one hand and then erasing with the other a few words behind.

      (Obviously apocryphal since the damn krauts put most of the verbs and half of the adverbs at the end of the sentence. You never know what’s happening till it’s done.)

  17. Writing cursive is an entirely different skill than reading it. I got “C”s in handwriting (that would’ve been “F”s if graded fairly) but I can read old handwritten letters and documents just fine.

  18. Anyone else think there is some Cursive Teaching Guild or some other such non-sense interest group lobbying in support of such instruction?

    1. It’s crony capitalism; most of the cursive writing systems in use today are actually trademarked, so each on has a company attached that makes tones of money selling workbooks and whatnot to the schools if they can convince the state to require their method be taught.

  19. Writing in cursive is definitely an unnecessary skill today. I had to take loads of penmanship classes in school. But I wish they had made us read more cursive writing. I can’t read old people handwriting for shit. How can anyone read that? It’s just capital letters and indistinct squiggles.

  20. The study involved 68 children aged 7 to 9, all right-handed and healthy.

    Suck it sickly lefties.

  21. I had to write everything in cursive in the fourth grade. My penmanship was/is generally awful. However, I learned block lettering when I took drafting in high school and I write that way for anything that is intended to be read by someone else.

  22. I can understand why some would want to drop the cursive requirement, but it’s a basic skill.

    What really gets me is how the kids no longer use dictionaries! Instead they look up words on the computer! And students — even the ones who want to study math and the hard sciences — can’t even use a slide rule! These are basic skills, too.

    1. I taught myself to use a slide rule in college, just to figure out the principles behind it.

      Its logarithms.

      Once I figured it out, I stopped using it.

    2. They use dictionaries, they are just online ones.

      1. They need to use books, dammit!

        And sliderules!

        And write in cursive!

        1. I am actually forcing my children to not only learn cursive but to excel at it. Not because I think it has anymore value than forcing them to read Crime and Punishment, yes, I have done this, but simply because I am a vindictive bastard and I had to learn the shit. I also need the extra subject matter to fill up their time so that they are not quite so far ahead as those educated with an eye toward the lowest common (core!) denominator.

          1. You may have forced your kids to decode Crime and Punishment, but I’d wager they didn’t actually read it in terms of understanding what it was actually about.

            1. I’d wager they didn’t actually read it in terms of understanding what it was actually about.

              Are you claiming to know what it was “actually about”? I am skeptical. I have read it twice and wouldn’t claim such a thing.

              Even if they didn’t get the secret message which you believe is there, so what? Exercising their minds is what education is all about, isn’t it? Sorry if the suggestion that children are smarter than the education system believes offends you. Some unquestionably are.

              1. No, because I haven’t it read it.

                But there’s other cases where I went back and read a novel I had originally been forced to read as a child and realized that the first reading was a complete waste of time because I lacked the mental development to appreciate it at more than the most superficial of levels at the time.

  23. I can’t believe no one else has said this: of course there’s a point to cursive. There are several of them. Lower case d, i, j, p, t, u, v, and w all have points, and two of them use extra points as well. I’ve probably missed your favorites, but really, there are many points to cursive.

    Silly children.

    *ducks*

    Seriously, once learned, it does move faster than printing by hand. In the days when “by hand” was what you had, that was an important consideration, but since we now use so much other technology for written communication, it’s not surprising that no one wants to do the work to learn it.

    1. I used to love fountain pens, and I have several rather expensive ones. But I haven’t used one in, probably, ten years. It’s a pity, because I love the feel of writing with one. But I never take notes on paper any more.
      On the other hand, taking notes on my iPhone is hell, even with its rather clever predictive spelling.
      Mostly I use a laptop, but I’m going to experiment with the big Kindle and a keyboard. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll bring out the Quink again.

  24. I just assume anyone who prints is either uneducated or an architect.

    /GOML

  25. I never understood the lefty=smear thing. I’m a lefty and never had a problem with smearing. I just keep my hand below where I’m writing. I suppose if you do that weird curvy wrist thing then it might be an issue, but you don’t *have* to write that way.

    1. Actually, you probably do–there are two kinds of lefties, and one kind (the, ahem, hookers) can’t write any other way. And I believe it is actually genetic and there’s a real gene associated with it.

      1. Huh, didn’t know that. Forgot to check my genetic privilege!

  26. I suppose there are worse things than learning cursive, like victim politics and other prog propaganda. But that’s a sad state of things if the best you can say about it is that at least it’s not a form of brainwashing.

  27. My cursive went to hell after learning Russian. We were forced to learn Cyrillic Cursive which I believe was invented by a drunk monk. Now I can’t keep the two separate.

    1. Since I speak German, I taught myself this for the hell of it. It’s a fun way to baffle your friends.

      1. I thought Fraktur was bad when I took German. Sutterlin looks like something from a Sci Fi movie.

        1. I have little problem with Fraktur; S?tterlin, however, is beyond me.

          And writing Cyrillic in cursive is something I find faster than writing it in block letters. Besides, the italic letter forms in Cyrillic are pretty much the same as the cursive.

          1. I can’t get past the Cyrillic cursive ‘t’. It just makes NO sense.

      2. Wow, I didn’t know it had a specific name! My aunt (b 1904 in Germany) taught me “die alte schrift” and would write my Christmas card greetings in it. I suspect that there are very few remaining who even recognize it, let alone can read it (at all). You’ve made me think of her, and that makes me smile. Thank you!

  28. Yeah cursive sucks. It’s much better to take way longer printing things. Because reasons.

  29. “But even though typing outmodes cursive in just about every way,”

    Apparently Soave cannot envision a circumstance where he needs to record something and a charged electronic device is unavailable. This is as unconvincing as saying one does not need to understand arithmetic because calculators exist. Is there a polar opposite to Luddism meaning overreliance on tech resulting in rejecting low-tech solutions?

    1. Gadgetry?

  30. I like cursive, I think it makes your writing more elegant, but I’m glad that I can type my essays and not handwrite papers. I wonder are there any more important issues than re-requiring kids to study cursive? do the state officials think that modern students search more for professional thesis writing on Internet ot some services to cheat on exams instead of attending college and study?

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