17 May 2013

Back to Basics

Welcome back. Once again I stumble onto a hotly debated issue that I’ve somehow overlooked. The pros and cons began in earnest in 2010 with the release of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics for kindergarten through high school.

I was aware of No Child Left Behind (2001) and Race to the Top (2009) and, of course, Keep the Feds out of My School (just kidding), but I paid scant attention to the core standards. I presumed that the authors, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, would do fine.

In my defense, I point out that I left teaching long before 2010 and that my involvement in K -12 education was never much more than PTA, assisting with homework and hoping my progeny would graduate, which they did (whew!) prior to 2010.

I should also note that, at the time, I was living in Virginia, which, content with its own Standards of Learning, was not one of the 45 states to adopt the national standards.

But this isn’t about Virginia. No, I owe my stumbling onto the issue to North Carolina, which did adopt the national standards. The Tar Heel State blipped my radar because the state lawmakers want their public schools to teach cursive handwriting. Alas, the core standards address printing and keyboarding; cursive is not specifically prescribed.

Keyboarding? Sort of. High school
typing class, 1957. (from Cohoes
High School yearbook, Cohoes, N.Y.)

Cursive Handwriting

I revere though rarely see good cursive handwriting. I’ve had colleagues whose script was a work of art. One told me she could still diagram sentences! (It had something to do with rulers and nuns.)

You might recall that I’ve blogged about my erratic signature penmanship (see Mortgage Refinancing). Reportedly, signatures are what got North Carolina legislators started. The primary sponsor of the bill received thank-you notes from fourth graders, none of whom signed in cursive. That was disconcerting to the representative.

North Carolina is not the only state with disconcerted lawmakers. Some states let their boards of education add cursive to the standards (what a novel approach!), but a few others also feel legislation is warranted.

Old School

I remember spending lots of time learning to get the lines and curlicues of the upper and lower case letters just right and getting those letters to connect. What I remember most is how the lefties struggled, though rotating their paper helped.

Although we learned cursive, most of those I queried now write like I do: a hybrid of printing and cursive. One outlier reported that the last time he used cursive was when he was making a card for a loved one. He had to Google cursive letters to remember what they looked like.

Wrap Up

Nowadays, there’s so much more to teach than when I was in public school. It’s not only subjects that weren’t offered, like Sex Education…if only. With the accelerated learning, something’s got to go if there’s no change in the school day or year.

You know, “experts” think that cursive handwriting benefits students’ motor skills and cognitive development. Maybe they could slip cursive under Physical Education or Art. Oh, wait! Are those still taught?

Thanks for stopping by.


If you check the first link, you’ll find the North Carolina bill goes beyond adding cursive handwriting. It would also require public school students to memorize the multiplication tables. (Really!) Hey, with or without a law, I fully support memorizing the tables, at least up to 12x12.

North Carolina House Bill, which passed unanimously. The Senate Bill is identical and that also passed. http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2013&BillID=h146

Common Core State Standards Initiative: http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states

Selected articles on the topic:

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