...but can anyone read it anymore?
A few years ago I wrote a post about the demise of cursive in America. I was reminded of it last month when, at the George Zimmerman trail, prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel was asked to read a letter aloud in court. “I don’t read cursive," she responded.
Her public, and somewhat humiliating, admission prompted me to post an update to my previous post for two reasons. First, Jeantel’s inability to read cursive has rekindled the debate among educators, journalists, politicians, pundits, and, of course, bloggers, regarding the value of teaching cursive in schools. Second, I couldn’t think of anything else to write about.
I don’t often write in longhand anymore, primarily because my handwriting is not very legible...even to me. For example, when it comes to grocery shopping, I used to create a handwritten list of needed items on a piece of paper. When we’d get to the supermarket, I’d hand over my list to my wife for her to use as a guide as she carefully selected the items, especially the closely scrutinized fruits and veggies, to place into our cart.
Invariably, at some point during our grocery outing, she would thrust the piece of paper toward my face, point to something I had written on the list, and with more than a slight hint of aggravation in her voice, say, “What the fuck is this?”
Instinctively I would grab the list from her, gaze at the particular item in question, and then sheepishly admit that I could not decipher what I written down.
Let's see. Does "broccoli" have one C and two Ls, or vice versa? Wait! Who cares? The iPhone will auto-correct my spelling!
Some people believe teaching cursive in school is a waste of time. Who needs to learn cursive when most people no longer write in longhand? And for those rare instances when they do have to put pen or pencil to paper, can’t they just print?
Yes they can, according to Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education.
“Very small proportions of adults use cursive for their day-to-day writing. Much of our communication is done on a keyboard, and the rest is done with print.”
In fact, 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a set of educational standards designed to give the nation a shared curriculum. These standards no longer require teaching cursive to young children, but instead promote teaching keyboarding skills.
Okay, I can understand that logic to a certain extent. After all, these days people don’t bother to write and mail handwritten letters. Instead, they sit at their keyboards, or on their smartphones and iPads and type or tap out e-mails and text messages while posting all kinds of, um, really important and fascinating tidbits on Facebook or Twitter.
But does this mean we should abandon teaching cursive to children in schools?
And if so, why not apply that same logic to other subjects? Do we really need to teach math anymore? After all, doesn’t everyone use calculators to add, subtract, divide, and multiply? Every smartphone these days has a calculator app. Let's just teach calculator skills and, for more complex mathematical needs, how to use Excel.
In fact, perhaps schools and teachers are obsolete. All anyone really needs to know is how to Google. From there they can get answers to virtually any question, information about any topic, and even self-help, DYI instructions for just about any project.
And if they can’t find what they’re looking for on Google, they can always text someone.
Hmm. Might the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial have been different had Rachel Jeantel been taught to read cursive? Hey, it coulda happened, right?