When I was in sixth grade, my teachers insisted that I take calligraphy as my so-called “elective” course one semester. I was so angry that I lifted my little brown winter coat up over my head and threw it at least a meter to the floor in front of me, thereby exposing my two fatal flaws: My handwriting is terrible and I can’t throw very well.

Still, being a dutiful student, for a time I managed to turn my signature scrawl into a work of art consisting of stylistic letters and embellished loops. I made my teachers proud. For a semester, anyway. To this day, I don’t write cursive, except to sign my kids’ school permission slips. And when I’m compelled to do so, my official signature displays all the depth and skill of a sixth grader.

I don’t dislike Rep. Linden Batman’s proposal to mandate cursive writing. But I’m not really a fan either. I suspect that for some kids, a good lesson in cursive or calligraphy or even typing, for that matter, is a useful exercise. For others, not so much. That’s merely a reflection of the fact that kids, as adults, are all different and respond positively and negatively to different lessons and styles of learning.

National School Choice Week is Jan. 27 to Feb. 3. The school choice movement in this country is truly a product of 21st century opportunity. I graduated from high school in 1990. Back then, the child of poor working parents in a rural part of the country had one choice for education—the local public school. My public school, it turns out, may have been the right choice for me. Our high school had its own radio station, and I excelled at the art of writing, journalism and the broadcast. I graduated valedictorian of my class.

But I remember many of my peers who didn’t fare so well, where the lack of educational choice and opportunity caused them to have a different, less rewarding path entirely. No education system is going to be so perfect that everyone succeeds. However, today we can do things we never could have imagined possible to boost academic excellence for most. A struggling child anywhere can now have access to the education system that fits his or her needs. It may be a traditional public school, a charter school, a home school, a private school, an online school or a combination of several formats.

Technology means kids in remote, rural areas like mine was now have access to plentiful libraries and unlimited courses taught by master educators in myriad subjects.

Children with learning disabilities now have an opportunity to catch their peers and even surpass them. Youngsters who are getting ahead can continue to move ahead instead of waiting for their classmates to catch up. This, then, allows more time for teachers to focus on struggling children so they, too, can get ahead.

Education choice is making a difference, where it is allowed to thrive. The only thing that stops this dramatic and dynamic learning environment of opportunity from being possible is a rigid political system that thinks of schoolchildren and education in sentimental terms that treat kids like factory widgets.

With apologies to Rep. Bateman, the education discussion shouldn’t be about making cursive, or computers, mandatory. The only thing that should be mandatory is the need for policymakers to rethink how education is delivered, making education choice the vehicle to open up new and exciting opportunities for all students.

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  1. Handwriting matters … But does cursive matter?
    Research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations appear below.)

    Often, cursive programs and teachers strongly discourage such practices. Students learning cursive are taught to join all letters, and to use different shapes for cursive versus printed letters. (These requirements do not align with the research findings above.)

    When following the rules doesn’t work as well as breaking them, it’s time to re-write and upgrade the rules. The discontinuance of cursive offers a great opportunity to teach some better-functioning form of handwriting that is actually closer to what the fastest, clearest handwriters do anyway. (There are indeed textbooks and curricula teaching handwriting this way. Cursive and printing are not the only choices.)

    Reading cursive still matters — this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.

    (In other words, we could simply teach kids to _read_ old-fashioned handwriting and save the year-and-a-half that are expected to be enough for teaching them to _write_ that way too … not to mention the actually longer time it takes to teach someone to perform such writing _well_.)

    Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don’t take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)


    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub.
    1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf


    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer.
    1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    (NOTE: there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.
    Shouldn’t there be more of them?)

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Lots of secondary and far too many college graduates know little and care even less abour math. Does that mean we drop math requirements?
    Gladstone refers to “old fashioned” skills, certainly a hopeful pejorative. Is it a case of having to teach teachers how to write?

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