To the editor:
Georgia is making news this month, because it will no longer require the teaching of cursive writing at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. This is not anything new. In fact, cursive writing was unofficially dropped from the curriculum in Georgia classrooms decades ago.
Where it may have been retained, it has not been taught in any significant measure. Cursive writing, when it is taught, usually begins the second semester of the third grade. Unfortunately, the practice always ends with the first semester of the fourth grade.
What reasons do educators give for the decline in cursive writing? According to the article, "Cursive Disappearing from Students' Writing Skills," the main reason is student and teacher apathy. The computer age has only recently given educators an excuse not to teach cursive writing, when the truth is, it has gone the way of grammar, Phonics, sentence diagramming and, lest we forget, classical math, for one simple reason -- educators choose not to teach it.
As referenced in the article, the reason for dropping cursive writing has no empirical basis, but rather, because "many students prefer computer or text messages to handwriting." Would not the equivalent of such thinking be to drop spelling from the curriculum, because students prefer to use spell check? Since when did student preference become the criteria for what does, or does not, make good curriculum?
Let's face it, as the same article also pointed out, "80 percent of all written work in classrooms is still done by hand." Therefore, students are going to use handwriting in some form. This form can be one we teach them, or one that they make up themselves. Is there any empirical evidence that would demonstrate the educational value of one handwriting form over the other? I would give you a resounding, "Yes!"
It has been demonstrated that to teach 4-and 5-year-olds manuscript (block-letter) writing, then -- when they are in the third grade -- undo everything they have learned only to teach them cursive writing is a waste of time and effort, when they can just as easily be taught cursive from the start.
Cursive writing is a more natural beginning for the underdeveloped motor skills of early childhood learners. As their motor skills become more refined, the natural consequence will be a beautiful and most legible penmanship. Cursive is both more efficient and more natural when mastered before print. Because children are developing their fine motor skills, cursive writing allows them to gradually improve their eye-hand coordination, versus straight lines that strain students.
The big payoff, however, is in the cognitive development of the early childhood learner. The first step in developing cognitive abilities is the development of fine motor skills. This means cursive writing, as opposed to manuscript, acts as a building block, rather than a stressor. With a less strenuous learning experience, children can progress in their learning at a faster, more efficient rate.
A word of caution, however. Pushing a child to develop faster than what can honestly be expected, may actually stunt growth or foster new issues like low self-esteem. Research has shown that manuscript requires some fairly precise movements that early childhood learners can have difficulty learning. Cursive, on the other hand, helps them develop the skills they need to do more precise activities like printing.
As a consequence, their fine motor skills and cognitive abilities may be more likely to develop faster, thereby, giving children the tools they need to develop more sophisticated mental tools.
The Georgia Board of Education and the Henry County Board of Education will do what they do in this matter. I am just wondering out loud, if, maybe, they are inadvertently throwing out the student with the curriculum.
LARRY WAYNE MCNORTON
High Point Christian Academy