Cursive Writing Is Obsolete; Schools Should Teach Programming Instead [Opinion]

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Cursive writing is an anachronism. Spending any classroom time on it is comparable to teaching how to use an abacus: it’s interesting as a history lesson, and probably offers some side benefits, but it is not at all practical as a day-to-day skill in the modern, connected world.

We live in the online age, where communication mostly involves typing. Partially for this reason, the controversial Common Core requirements in the United States do not mention cursive handwriting. Still, many states are forcing schools to teach it anyway, from California to Tennessee. School systems all over the world are similarly clinging to the past, in the form of loopy letters.

The problem: time kids spend learning to write curvy, connected words, is time kids could be spending learning the basics of programming and any number of other technology skills they’ll need in our increasingly connected world. If we’re going to add skills to the curriculum – and we should – something has to go. It might as well be the skill most people never use.

Hardly Anyone Uses Cursive

Cursive should be allowed to die. In fact, it’s already dying, despite having been taught for decades. – Morgan Polikoff

Almost everyone reading this article was taught cursive in school, but most of you don’t use it.

cursive-writing

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“Much of our communication is done on a keyboard, and the rest is done with print,” says Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of education at The Univeristy of Southern California. “While both research and common sense indicate students should be taught some form of penmanship, there is simply no need to teach students both print and cursive.”

There’s only so much time in the day, and which skills we decide to teach has a dramatic impact on the lives of students. Does it really make sense to prioritize an obsolete ability?

It’s Not About The Extra Benefits

Learning cursive does offer some benefits: it helps develop fine motor skills, for example, and stimulates certain regions of the brain.

You could make similar arguments about almost anything. Playing the original Super Mario Bros helps develop fine motor skills, for example, but requiring school children to play that game 15 minutes a day would be an (admittedly awesome) waste of time.

super-mario-bros

If cursive is taught, it should be taught not as an essential life skill but as an art – like calligraphy – or as an interesting relic of the past. Modern people don’t use it, and education systems should stop pretending they do.

Bad Reasons To Learn Useless Skills

Cards on the table: penmanship was my least favourite class as a kid (with the possible exception of math). I shudder to think of the time I spent learning cursive: 15 minutes of schooling, every day.

It’s a staggering waste – but even worse, in retrospect, were the reasons my teachers said it was important.

“You’re going to use this every day,” I was told.

I don’t.

“In college, if you can’t write cursive, you won’t be able to take notes fast enough.”

I didn’t use cursive; I kept up just fine.

Of course, teachers gave me lots of bad reasons for learning things – that doesn’t mean learning them isn’t important. I hated learning multiplication tables, but was told it was important because when I grow up I “won’t be carrying a calculator with me everywhere”.

iphone-calculator

That prediction didn’t turn out, but I’m not bitter about learning multiplication tables – I use that skill multiple times every day.

So while I hated both penmenship and math class, I’m not upset about multiplication tabels. The problem with cursive is I never use it.

Surveys show most adults feel the same way. Typing is faster, and print is fast enough when you happen to need to use paper (and it’s increasingly possible to avoid paper entirely).

Education Should Focus On The Future

Just because you learned something in school doesn’t mean your kids should: the world is changing, quickly. And while it’s hard to make predictions about where technology is headed, it’s safe to say the future won’t involve a lot of cursive handwriting (unless some kind of disaster sends us back to 14th-century technology, in which case handwriting will be the least of our problems).

There’s only so many hours in a day, so it’s important education systems prioritize. Every hour spent learning an obsolete skill like cursive is time they’re not learning the programming skills needed for great jobs, or other essential life-skills like managing your money.

I’m not an education expert, but I don’t think the politicians mandating cursive writing are either. Having said that, I’d love to hear what you think: is cursive obsolete? What should schools be teaching instead? Let’s discuss this below, and know that it’s perfectly possible I’m wrong about this (I’m wrong about a lot of things).

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