Miscellany 44: Is Cursive Dead? And Other Bookish Thoughts
Should we stop teaching cursive to children? It seems that many schools have already stopped, citing typing as more important.
This is a bad idea, and I say this not because I am nostalgic for pre-computer days, or dislike technology. I write my poetry on an iPad, not by hand, for instance, and do all my writing directly on the computer. Here’s why we still need to teach kids cursive:
1. Cursive is much faster and easier to write than printing, which matters when one is taking notes in class, or brainstorming, or drafting.
1.5. Good cursive is aesthetically pleasing. There is so much ugliness and depressing utilitarianism in the world already. Why not give our kids the gift of knowing they can produce good handwriting? It is a genuine skill, not a fake trophy-for-everyone thing.
2. Writing by hand engages the whole body in a way that typing doesn’t, so taking notes by hand is actually a good learning strategy (kinesthetic learning). It is also a good drafting / outlining strategy because it engages different parts of the brain, and can get you past writer’s block. Being able to write easily, quickly, and legibly matters.
3. Writing by hand means that one can write anywhere, anytime. A Moleskin notebook and a pencil can go in my coat pocket wherever I go…and indeed I always travel with a tiny notebook. Ideas, thoughts, directions, lists…always accessible with no need for an electronic device and no need to recharge the battery.
Incidentally, this also levels the playing field economically: why should only the kids who can afford computers and smartphones be able to develop their thoughts easily and comfortably into good prose and poetry? Until recently all the great novels were drafted by hand, anyway.
4. Writing by hand helps teach spelling (as you learn to shape the word), hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills.
5. We need not worry that kids are missing out on learning to type. A single course in typing will provide that skill. It is easy to learn.
Teaching kids to write in cursive is another example of discipline that makes them more free. If we ‘free’ them from this skill now, they are more firmly chained to their iPhones and iPads and other gadgets… If we help them with the discipline of writing now, they are free to use that whole constellation of skills in many different ways later on.
Now a few interesting thoughts on books, reading, and writing…
This is an interesting piece on the role of the intuition in studying a medieval manuscript. It’s also a great example of the way that deep engagement with a subject (or activity) involves a total mindfulness, a holistic awareness of what is before you.
Here is Alan Jacobs on how to read a book – a nice short introduction to the ideas he develops more fully (and engagingly) in his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.
John Mark Reynolds says: it’s ok to be bad at art; do it anyway.