Is anyone still teaching cursive? Does anyone care?

“Niche scholarship and the blue-moon occasion do not justify a universal policy of childhood education,” observes John McWhorter.

As you see, I’ve taken that observation out of context. Without context it’s hard to know what McWhorter means, so let’s unpack it.

Probably every current teacher has had the experience of writing a comment on a student’s paper only to find that the student can’t read the comment because it’s in cursive! Nevertheless, although I may be a dinosaur, I’m not one of those who defend the teaching of cursive for arcane reasons. Yes, some dinosaurs claim that cursive is important because a student might have to read the Constitution in its original (!) or for similar unlikely reasons. But, does that make the hours spent teaching and learning cursive worthwhile? There are many better things to do with those hours. It reminds me of long division, which 99% of students find opaque; they memorize the algorithm without any understanding. Yes, long division is useful in precalculus when dividing polynomials, but it’s not worth the time it takes just because there is a tiny number of students who will understand it. And those few can learn it when they get to precalculus.

It’s clear, however, that hundreds of commenters on McWhorter’s NYT essay disagree with him (and me). They claim that cursive is “an art form” (not in what I’ve seen produced by my students) or that it’s “beautiful and necessary” (not in what I’ve seen produced by my students) or that “not teaching and not learning cursive is promoting a form of illiteracy in one’s own language” (rubbish). Taking notes by hand has been shown to be effective, but I’ve seen no evidence that those notes have to be in cursive, especially if you’re ever planning to read them afterwards!

Categories: Teaching & Learning