At the age of 86, with 87 peering over the horizon, I realize that I probably am a step behind the times.
But I was still surprised when I learned that a 12-year-old grandson in Grade 7 in the Huron-Superior Catholic District School system couldn’t write his name in longhand.
Two other grandchildren in their 20s even have trouble reading it.
Cursive writing, it seems, is no longer essential in education in Ontario or in many other places.
How did I miss this?
I suppose it is because it has been a long time since I was raising kids.
In any event it has piqued my interest and not in a good way.
I disagree totally with the premise so I approached the Algoma District School Board and the Huron-Superior Catholic School Board for information as to what the situation is here.
I am writing to inquire as to where the school system stands on cursive writing, I asked. Is it taught any longer?
I explained about my grandson not being able to write his name and also that from my research I had discovered that some boards in Canada and the U.S. were now reintroducing it into the curriculum.
“I looked into the curriculum expectations and cursive writing is not mandated, but students are made aware of it. Some teachers may choose to do some work with it,” Jennifer Sarlo, chairperson of the Algoma board, replied..
“From curriculum documents:
“Writing, Specific Expectation 3.7: Use elements of effective presentation in the finished product, including print, script, different fonts, graphics, and layout. (e.g., use legible printing and cursive writing)
“I believe there are some resources available to parents who choose to work with their children at home on it.”
Rose Burton Spohn, director of education with the separate board, said:
“Our teachers must follow the provincial curriculum. Since cursive writing is not an expectation in the curriculum document, individual teachers may or may not be teaching cursive writing.
“The Ministry of Education determines the curriculum that is taught in all provincially-funded Ontario schools. The language document was last updated in 2006. From at least that point forward, teachers across Ontario would have had the choice to teach or not teach cursive writing.”
So much for the three Rs. By my read it would now be the two Rs, reading an ‘rithmetic.
Years ago, way back in the 1930s, according to one story, cursive writing was to give way to typewriters.
But the advent of all the electronic gadgets that have come into play since apparently got the thought going again, this time with support from, if you can believe it, educators.
I am definitely old school. I believe cursive writing, whether you ever have to use it or not, should be a mandatory part of the curriculum. And that is not just for the writing, but for the reading as well.
It will take several generations to fully excise cursive writing from daily use but it will never be excised from official documents that include notes in longhand.
The Catholic Board in Toronto returned to cursive writing in 2014 and state legislatures in Alabama, California, Tennessee, Louisianna and several other states have mandated it in the U.S.
In some states that don’t have it, summer camps have been set up to teach it.
Any kind of writing “is going to have massive benefits for the brain,” Indiana University professor and co-author Karin James was quoted in a Washington Post story.
It said other studies demonstrate that students retain more information if they write their notes, instead of typing them. For all the challenges of cursive, young children acquire the skill “very fast, as soon as they get exposure,” she said. “Visual recognition during childhood is so plastic and malleable.”
And, according to the story, a week will do.
Campers seemed to luxuriate in the tactile activities, the way cursive allowed them to rarely raise their pens from paper, an entire word recorded in a few swooping strokes. By the end of the five-day program, Johnson said, “they read historical documents so much better,” and were mesmerized to unlock their secrets.
“It’s ridiculous,” Shilo Stagg, whose eight-year-old daughter Lexie attended Grade 3 at Octagon Pond Elementary, told the Cape Breton Post. “I teach Lexie how to write myself, but a few people I know think it’s a waste of time. I don’t think it’s a waste of time. I think it will be useful for her and I can’t believe the schools don’t teach it any more.”
There is some thought teachers don’t have the time to teach it any more. I don’t buy that. As mentioned above, it can be done in five days if it is done in a concentrated exercise. In regualr schools it could be done in smaller episodes over a year.
That was the way it was when I was in elementary school. We learned cursive writing in Grade 3 and were fully proficient by Grade 4.
Proficient in my case is a relative term
In Grade 4, the boys, myself included, turned into a race everything the teacher wrote on the blackboard that we had to copy. As a result a lot of us ended up with horrible penmanship, which in my case lasts to this day.
One day my wife passed back to me a note I had written, asking me to read it to her as she couldn’t. I got through the first part with some difficulty but then came up against a wall. For the life of me I couldn’t make out what I had written in that last sentence.
“I give up,” I said. “I have no idea what I wrote there.”
She smiled the smile that tells me something is coming that I am not going to like.
“You didn’t write anything there,” she said. “I just put down some chicken scratches.”
I am not exactly a walking advertisement for cursive writing, but that doesn’t mean I can’t support it.
Ann Andrachuk, the Toronto Catholic Trustee who introduced the motion that was unanimously approved in 2014 to return the teaching of cursive writing to board schools, was quoted in The Toronto Star at the time as saying many families in her area who hail from Europe wonder why schools here don’t teach it. Overseas, “some countries introduce it before printing, because it is easier to learn, rather than block letters,” she added. “It’s smooth flowing and you are always going in one direction.”
Actually I liked the way it was done when I was young, going from the printed letter to the rounded. It seemed natural to just join up and put a little lean on the letters we had been printing.
I don’t believe cursive writing should have simply been abandoned on the say-so of government officials or educators. Parents should have had a say in it.
In one questionnaire that went out in Winnipeg in 2015, 90% of respondents said it was a skill still worth teaching.
It would have been interesting to have known what parents in Ontario thought about the change that took place here back in 2006 and also would be interesting to know what they think now.
Any bets as to which way that would go?