Monthly Archives: August 2016

Cursive’s Cursory Moment

Last week, a few different people sent me messages with the link to Anne Trubek’s article, “Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter,” from the New York Times. Although I wasn’t sure I agreed with the article’s main point about handwriting, it made me happy to know that my readers know what I like to write about  — literacy, education, technology, raising children. It didn’t matter to me that their messages were emailed to me and not sent by snail mail. That would have taken too long to be helpful to me.

Trubek’s article, which makes a case against teaching cursive in elementary school, is sure to ignite conversation among teachers, parents, and politicians. Cursive, Trubek says, is not needed or justified any longer. It takes too long to learn and to use. And although “people talk about the decline of handwriting as if it’s proof of the decline of civilization,” she says that’s a fallacy. “If the goal of … education is to prepare students to become successful, employable adults, typing is inarguably more useful than handwriting.”

I don’t think anyone can really argue with Trubek there. I remember well the typing class I took in 7th grade. I loved that class. Once I had the home keys down, it was a quick journey to the goal of “touch typing,” a skill that I draw on in infinite and completely unconscious ways, and have for the majority of my life. My handwriting is ok. My cursive, completely dysfunctional from disuse.

As a teacher who sometimes struggles to read student handwriting, I am actually passionate about the issue of legibility. Trubek cites Steve Graham of Arizona State, who found that “when teachers are asked to rate multiple versions of the same paper differing only in legibility, neatly written versions of the paper are assigned higher marks for overall quality of writing than are versions with poorer penmanship.” People who type are given higher marks than those who handwrite. That isn’t because their ideas are any better, necessarily.

And, like Trubek, I bristle at ideas that conflate ethics with skills. In her article, she takes readers through a brief history of handwriting and includes an anecdote from the American South where it was once thought that one’s ability to write cursive, and the individual characteristics of one’s cursive, revealed something important about one’s personhood.

But is it a slippery slope? Should I care more about doing away with cursive if on the horizon is handwriting altogether? I don’t know.

Yes, I love my mother’s beautiful cursive. When I get a letter from her in the mail with her looping, black letters connecting to make thoughtful lines of heartfelt sentiments, I feel connected and happy. But I would, too if she sent me a printed note, or, I have to admit, an email.

It’s the fact that she wants to reach out to me that matters, and that she does. It doesn’t so much matter how.

Time to Think — It’s Essential

In his very readable book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown tells us what we should already know about our limited resources when it comes to focus, work, and energy.

The single best thing we can do to improve our performance and our level of happiness, he says, is to narrow our focus to just one or two things that are truly essential. In its application to education, McKeown’s idea is clearly related to the mindfulness movement and to all manner of wellness issues as they pertain to students and teachers alike. But because it is so simple, it is especially striking.

So this summer, I gave myself an essentialist gift: time to think. It’s what everyone involved in teaching and learning wants and needs due to the pace and nature of the school year, with its many deadlines, checkpoints, and requirements.

I let my mind roam. I thought about the state of the world, politics, culture. I thought about my marriage, my children, our respective health. Pretty soon, I felt able to think about my work, and what I love about it, and what more I think I can contribute. And I went further — I thought about which community service project I want to get involved with, and about getting a puppy.

I thought about a lot of other things, too. But I didn’t do a whole lot about any of it, or worry about when I would. For me, that was a significant and welcome change.

School is about to start up again. What I’m thinking about needs to shift, and fast. There are classes to plan and meetings to run, conferences to have and presentations to give. But I feel more ready than I ever have before to jump back in.

Having time to think is the reason why. I know what I am going to focus on this year, and what I am going to politely push to the back burner. I’ve asked my leadership team to do the same, so that we can be aligned in our focus — on students and what is essential for them.