The shift in emphasis away from teaching cursive writing in elementary school began about the same time as the introduction of “whole language” system, which originated in England. The children were supposed to learn to read and write just as naturally as they learned to talk. Out the window, in many North American schools, went cursive writing lessons along with formal instruction in Phonics and Spelling. The older, more experienced teachers who tried to object, were overruled, and forced to adapt to the new trend.
Another consideration was the advent of the computer in the classroom. It was argued that, when these children grew up, they would be typing everything, so keyboarding lessons began to take the place of writing. Of course, there were seldom enough computers for every child to work on one at the same time. As a result, the children who had never learned cursive writing continued to print. Often they finished elementary school, without having had one formal cursive writing lesson. They, and their teachers had been led to believe that writing was, or soon would be, unnecessary.
As was predicted, some of more enterprising students taught themselves to write. They usually began by joining the bottoms of the printed letters and those who enjoyed good small muscle control developed legible handwriting. If a child was the slightest bit artistic, he added swirls and flourishes that were, in some cases, quite attractive. Those who lacked interest, or who didn’t see a need to change, continued to print. As long as the teacher could read their work, nothing was said, lest their creative urges be stifled with unimportant trivia.
Fortunately, today, the pendulum is beginning to swing back. Many school boards have seen the error of their ways, and Phonics and Spelling lessons are reappearing in elementary school classrooms. Teachers are once again being encouraged to teach cursive writing. This philosophical about-face has been spurred by complaints from colleges and universities that too many freshmen students were unable to read or spell accurately.
There have always been fads in education. Unfortunately, the young people exposed to the trial period are often short-changed on acquiring necessary skills. My own son, now in his forties, went through school during the time when “New Math” was the innovation of the day. Any type of memorization of number facts was forbidden. As a result, when you ask Jack a numerical question to this day, you’ll see his eyes roll up to the left, as far as possible,while he uses his fingers as an abacus, and those digits can go a mile a minute!
School boards and superintendents of education need to learn one important lesson themselves. Traditional teaching methods have worked well for generations. Don’t try to fix a method that isn’t broken. It’s fine to introduce variations occasionally, but only after long and vigorous testing in the jurisdiction where they originated. Our children should not be used as guinea pigs.
And Parents, if you see an area in which your child is missing a necessary skill, don’t hesitate to teach him yourself. There are lots of helpful books, at teachers’ supply stores. Now, I regret not having made Jack learn the multiplication tables by heart. Do you know how silly a forty-three year old looks, counting on his fingers?