Can We Please Stop Hand-Wringing About Teaching Cursive in Schools?


I can’t bite my tongue on this anymore. I just can’t.

If you travel in genealogical circles, you’ve almost certainly heard a great deal of woe over the “news” that kids are no longer being taught cursive. It’s quite the calamity, apparently. How will the kids read the old documents? What will become of us? Are we dumbing kids down? Why aren’t the things we were taught valued anymore?

The whole thing drives me batty. Here’s why:

Many kids are still being taught cursive in school. Most public schools are not required to teach cursive anymore. That’s not to say they’re not teaching it. I have two elementary school aged kids, and I spend a fair amount of time at their school. Kids there are learning cursive. I know tons of other parents of elementary school kids who report the same. Not everything you read on Facebook is true. Also, if you haven’t spent a chunk time in an actual classroom recently, please do that. You’ll find that there are kids who can’t read anything. Cursive is not the biggest problem here. Once we have every kid reading and doing math at grade level, we can worry about the shape of the letters they form.

Kids don’t always learn to write at school anymore. If you haven’t had a kid start kindergarten recently, you may not realize this, but kindergarten is not where you’re learning letters anymore. It’s where you learn to read. New standards (which I do not want to debate here, no thank you, SERIOUSLY NO) mean that kids need to be able to read in order to graduate from kindergarten. That means that parents/preschools are expected to bring a kid to kindergarten who already knows the alphabet, and knows how to print letters. The kids who don’t have this are starting out way behind, and often end up repeating kindergarten. Parents are already having to teach kids to write.

There are lots of old documents that can’t be read even if you know cursive. I am old enough to have been taught cursive. However, I have German ancestors, whose records are in old German script. My cursive education was useless against this foe. Guess what I did? I learned to read German script. Nobody died. I read the records. It was fine. Old records are in a variety of handwriting styles, and some of them are even in foreign languages (Latin church records, anyone?). If that was a barrier, there’d be no such thing as genealogical research. It’s not a barrier at all. We learn what we need to learn to do what we need to do. In fact, learning things as an adult is very good for us. People who stop learning in elementary school grow up to be dumb, and remain dumb. Leaving some learning for later is just fine.

Kids today need different skills than we did. When we were learning cursive, the world was a completely different place. We could apply for jobs by filling out a paper form; now we need a computer. Virtually no one accepts paper applications anymore. We communicated with people via letters; now we use email, Facebook, texting, Skype, or any number of other methods. Our biggest tech challenge might have been programming the blinking VCR; now it’s fixing some HTML. If our kids spend time learning cursive instead of learning that stuff, they’re going to be unemployable. They’ll be living in our basements, where they’ll be able to read cursive, but we won’t care because they’re living in our basements. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a basement. My kids are going to need jobs. My 10-year-old is taking a coding class this summer, because seriously, we don’t have a basement. I’m a little sad that the things that were important in my day aren’t entirely relevant, but I cannot let my nostalgia hold my kids back. Their world is theirs. It’s not about me.

Parents need to parent. I do not understand how “some schools don’t teach cursive anymore” can possibly translate to “kids don’t learn cursive anymore.” Here’s a crazy thought: We can teach our own kids skills that we believe are important, valuable or useful. Are parents seriously expecting schools to teach their kids everything they need to know? Where’s the hand-wringing about abdicating parental responsibility? School didn’t teach me to tie my shoes, scramble an egg, sew on a button, tell a dude to buzz off, or any number of things I needed to function. I do all of those things more often than I write in cursive (in fact, I can’t write in cursive anymore, aside from signing my name. Woe! Unfriend! Unfollow!). If we’re at the point where we feel schools are completely responsible for teaching kids every single thing they should know, we have way bigger problems than curly handwriting. If we feel like teaching our own kids this skill isn’t a good use of our time, then maybe it’s not all that important after all.

It seems to me that if we want our kids to learn cursive, we should teach them cursive. Amazon has a ton of workbooks you can buy, nearly all of which are under $10 (in fact, many are under $5). You can download free worksheets on the internet. You can find apps for your smartphone or tablet. You can even buy some lined paper, sit down with the kid, and teach them cursive all by yourself. They’ll probably remember that quality time with you, and you’ll be passing along something from your own childhood to the kid. That’s good, right?

But please…enough with the blaming of the schools. They’re not there to be everything to our kids. That’s our job.

Photo by Thomas Quine


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