Monday, July 11, 2011

Cursive archaic? Keyboarding overrated? Why should there have to be a choice?

I’m not about to claim that the ability to write in cursive is some sort of art form. Anybody who has ever read my own penmanship would know there is nothing artistic about it.

But there is something about the modern trend that says people no longer need to write by hand (and if they do, printing is good enough because they’re probably not scrawling out more than two or three words at a time) that I find to be appalling.

I THINK IT is pathetic that we have people who claim to be properly-educated young adults who can’t read documents written by hand in cursive.

But instead of trying to fix that problem, we try to claim that those people are fine – as is. By that logic, maybe we should resolve the problem of illiteracy by claiming that the written word in any form is archaic. Problem solved!

Not quite.

There have been many reports in recent years about how young people just aren’t picking up on the ability to write by hand. It is a skill that apparently just isn’t getting classroom time devoted to it.

LOCALLY, WE’RE GETTING attention paid to it because of Indiana Department of Education officials who are imposing new requirements for public education in that state (a part of which comprises the far southeastern portion of the Chicago metropolitan area) that say schools no longer have to teach cursive at all.

As for those of the rest of us who want to get all haughty, it seems that Illinois’ education requirements have NEVER included cursive handwriting.

So nit-picking over that point is a bit silly.

But it also strikes me that many millions of people in this state learned how to write in cursive without such a requirement. Personally, I recall printing being taught in the first grade, with cursive coming into play during the second grade.

IT WAS A skill required in order to do our classroom assignments in all the other subjects. It’s not merely a lot of loops and overly-elaborate curls that the semi-literate detractors of cursive would like to claim.

Now, it seems that many students never get around to learning it, with teachers claiming they just don’t have time to devote to teaching the ability to write.

Of course, the big point that the detractors of cursive handwriting harp on when they make their argument is that children will be taught at a younger age the skills involved with using a proper keyboard.

Children will be taught keyboarding, which sounds so much more elaborate than it really is. They’re going to be taught how to type.

THERE IS A trick to it, although once the basic skill and rhythmic patterns are learned, it can enable one to write rather quickly. Or a lot faster than the type of person who relies solely on the two “trigger” fingers to peck away at all the letters and symbols of the “qwerty” keyboard.

My point being that it is a parlor trick. It’s not the complex. The idea that it takes so much time to teach that other aspects must be downplayed is ridiculous.

Anybody who seriously argues that teaching typing (I refuse to think of it as “keyboarding”) must come at the expense of something else is being lazy. They’re just looking for an excuse to justify the fact that they never bothered to learn proper penmanship.

And by proper, I don’t necessarily mean “neat.” I merely mean readable.

NOW I HAVE read some reports that say students will start being taught how to type during elementary school.

That’s nice. Although personally, it was a skill that I acquired during one year of a high school class in typing, along with 30-plus years of actual experience of pecking away at various typewriters (electric and manual), word processors, computers and laptops.

The reality, however, is that the only thing that will be accomplished by having young kids peck away at computer keyboards is that they will learn that the computer “mouse” isn’t the only controlling device.

Which means they’re still likely to think of the computer as something they can use to play assorted games or watch the content of various discs – rather than as a device they would use to write with.

I HAVE HEARD it from my nephews and nieces, who have seen me using a computer to write copy – and tell me that I’m wasting computer time that could better be used to play a game or two. If anything, the ability to write by hand creates a certain appreciation for the words themselves. Teaching the ability to type can come later in life.

As far as Indiana is concerned, there is one aspect that bothers me more – the fact that the state says schools can decide for themselves if cursive is something they want to teach as a “local standard.”

Which makes me wonder if this talk of doing away with cursive is only going to broaden the gap that already exists, in which some children get better educations that others based on the “accident” of where they happened to grow up.


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