Think back to the last time you picked up a pen to write a note. Did you print your message or write it in cursive? My personal style is more of a blend of the two. It is true that each of us develops our own unique form of handwriting. However, could we successfully merge manuscript letters with cursive without formal training in both?
The implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (a.k.a. No Child Left Behind) is forcing educators to make difficult decisions about what to teach and what to cut from the curriculum. Reading and math instruction have to be given priority. In the district in which I teach the mandate is at least 90 minutes of literacy instruction and 60 minutes of math instruction daily. Then teachers must block off time for lunch, recess and specials; such as music, art and phy ed. The time that remains is very limited. Since science is the next area to be tested by No Child Left Behind, time must be given to teach science. Poor Social Studies gets the left over minutes. After placing core academics, specials, and lunch into a schedule there is literally only minutes left to spare. What gets cut? Non-academic activities like teaching cursive writing.
A team of teachers and I just recently had a conversation about teaching cursive and the expectation of usage. The general consensus was that as 2nd grade teachers we have a responsibility to expose children to cursive and spend some time on the formation of letters but not to require them to use it. Interestingly, my principal was present for this discussion. Her thoughts were to eliminate cursive instruction all together. She felt that providing handwriting packets and having children practice cursive at home was sufficient. Why take precious instructional time to teach a skill most children don’t use because of technology or due to their command of printing when other academic areas are more important? I think one would be hard pressed to find a teacher committing a major block of instructional time to cursive writing after hearing that message.
So, why isn’t cursive writing being taught in our schools? I believe the answer is that as educators we are so focused on preparing children to pass high stakes tests that little time is committed to much else. When schools are judged based on student achievement scores in reading and math, it is not surprising that little emphasis is given to cursive writing. The ever increasing use of technology, which requires keyboarding skills not cursive writing, is another factor. Will this prevent children from developing their own unique style of handwriting? For my students it won’t. The cursive packets have already been sent home.