Rebellion Against Common Core as Cursive Makes Comeback

(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) Longtime critics of the Common Core educational standards increasingly can sign their names to policy successes on one major front of their battle.

For at least six years, one of many criticisms of the Core was that it deliberately de-emphasized cursive writing (sometimes called writing “in script”) in favor of teaching “keyboard skills.” Just as with the controversial mathematics-instruction methods pushed by Common Core, the Core’s preference for technology over handwriting basics is another example of the standards’ emphases on things trendy and newfangled ahead of the tried and true.

PREVIOUSLY: How Common Core Damages Students’ College Readiness

Proponents of cursive now are successfully fighting back, with Arizona, Louisiana and Alabama this coming academic year joining at least 11 other states once again requiring or at least promoting cursive writing as part of their schools’ curriculum.

A week ago, the online publication Quartz featured a lengthy story about the comeback of cursive writing and the excellent educational and scientific reasons for it.

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“What we found was that children until about grade six were writing more words, writing faster, and expressing more ideas if they could use handwriting—printing or cursive—than if they used the keyboard,” University of Washington professor Virginia Berninger told the Washington Post.

And, reports Quartz, “Brain scans during the two activities also show that forming words by hand as opposed to on a keyboard leads to increased brain activity (pdf). Scientific studies of children and adults show that wielding a pen when taking notes, rather than typing, is associated with improved long-term information retention, better thought organization, and increased ability to generate ideas.”

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Further explanation from the same article:

It may well be that the physicality of shaping letters cements concepts in the mind. For example, to type the word “typing,” I made the same motion on the keyboard six times, choosing which letter to type but not forming them. But if I were to write the same thing by hand, I’d have to shape six different letters and put them together. That takes more effort and seems to both demand more of the brain and leave a deeper imprint on the mind than typing. That imprint appears to be critical when learning new things.

And researchers from Princeton have found that taking notes on machines leads to “shallower processing” of information in the brain because “laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

Finally, when this Liberty Headlines reporter first summed up the pro-cursive arguments from experts in 2011, he found:

Also, there is the practical consideration of the role cursive plays in official public documents. The unique, identifying value of the personal signature is an essential part of contracts and other transactions that can’t be duplicated electronically. Especially as computer hackers become increasingly adept at their evil arts, the cursive signature should be more, not less, of a necessary safeguard against fraud.

The individuality of an old-fashioned signature serves another, more intangible role. Electronic keyboard communication is homogenizing, tending towards the impersonal, and often less expressive. It also promotes sloppiness. Cursive writing, on the contrary, requires character-building effort to maintain legibility. As described in a marvelous 1951 book called Written By Hand, by Englishman Aubrey West, “While in speech any slovenliness of articulation which the easy of conversation may invite can be at once amended – for your hearer will invite you to repeat more intelligibly what he has not distinctly heard – there is in writing [by hand] no opportunity for correction: so that any real illegibility in writing is a wider breach of good manners than indistinct utterance.”

Finally, no email message can fully replace the civilizing and personalizing value of a hand-written note of thanks or condolence. It can even be argued that a culture eschewing such civilizing touches is morally and perhaps spiritually poorer.

As noted above, this is just one of many issues involved in the national fight about Common Core. Proponents say that common standards will raise the level of educational attainment nationwide and provide a better way to measure and compare educational results. Opponents argue – among numerous other criticisms – that homogenized standards lead to counterproductive “uniformity, standardization, and compliance,” according to Robert Holland of the Heartland Institute. “The result could retard successful innovation rather than promote it.”

As is shown by the growing backlash against the Core’s techno-infatuation, and in favor of cursive writing, anybody who wants a drama about a battle pitting parents at the grassroots level against bureaucratized educational centralizers could not have written a better… well a better script.