Grandmas, the Declaration of Independence and Cursive

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COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA
  • Courtesy of wikimedia
Did you know grandmas can't print? Did you know you can only read the Declaration of Independence in the original historical version? Yeah, neither did I.

I don't give much of a damn whether or not schools teach cursive. If it's a choice between cursive or recess time, I say go with recess. If it's cursive or a has-nothing-to-do-with-teaching-to-the-test project, I say go with the project. But if there's time enough and it doesn't cut out anything valuable, sure, why not? Teach cursive if you want.

But I hate ridiculous, sounds-like-common-sense con jobs trying to justify anything, teaching cursive or otherwise. That's what this post is about.

I read an article about the revival of cursive in the classroom. Arizona is now requiring cursive instruction, which is part of a national movement, so it's news. I've heard arguments that cursive instruction encourages some kind of higher level thinking, but so do any number of other educational activities, so that's a silly argument. But not as silly, as ridiculous, as logic-challenged, as maddening, as the arguments in this article.

One cursive proponent says, if children know cursive, they can read a letter from grandma. Sounds logical, right? Grandma sends a birthday card or a postcard from Italy, and the poor little grandchild looks at it, turns to mommy in tears and says, "I (choke) can't read what grandma wrote (sob)." My question is, how stupid is grandma—or grandpa, to make this less sexist (though the article doesn't mention him)? Didn't everyone in that generation learn to print? That's what I do when I send birthday cards or any other written communication to my grand children. I print, so they can read it. For the younger one, I write in all caps, since that's all she writes and reads at this point. That's being, I don't know, thoughtful. Considerate. Loving. My cursive is such a miserable scrawl even I have trouble reading it sometimes, so if I wrote cursive, I'd have to slow down anyway to make it legible. It would take as much effort as simply printing, so they can read it.

But if you don't think about it, you might say, yeah, that makes sense, let's teach kids cursive so they can read grandma's letters.

It the grandma ploy is bad, the Declaration of Independence argument is even worse, which says kids who don't know cursive will never be able to read historical documents. Using that razor sharp logic, a New York Republican councilman said, "If an American student cannot read the Declaration of Independence, that is sad."

OK everyone, raise your hands if you've ever tried to read the original written version of the Declaration of Independence. Not just peeked at it, not just struggled through the first few sentences, but actually read the original version for content. Don't be ashamed if you haven't. I haven't either. Why bother when I can read a nice, clean, clearly printed version without having to struggle through the writer's penmanship? Aren't movable-type printing presses and computers wonderful?

Again, I don't give a damn about the cursive-no-cursive topic. We have far more important educational issues to deal with. But this is the kind of stuff I hear from politicians all the time: simple, folksy arguments that sound like they make sense until you spend ten seconds thinking about them. "Yeah, that makes sense," people think when they imagine cursive-deprived children who can't read grandma's letter or the Declaration of Independence. Except no, it doesn't make sense. At best it's sloppy thinking. At worst, which is more often the case, it's a purposeful distraction from the real argument. It's someone smiling and patting you on the back while he's picking your pocket.

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