This week the Letter of the Week in my classroom is B. I have written a large “B” on a poster-sized piece of paper, had everyone make the sound the letter B makes, and then asked students to say words that start with the B sound. I then wrote the words they listed on the paper. As we have played and sung songs this week we have noticed whenever a B-word is used. If it is a word not already on our list, we add it with much fanfare. At this point it is safe to say that almost all of my sixteen 3-year olds know what a printed capital B looks and sounds like.
Some of my kids have attempted to paint or draw the letter B themselves at the Art Table using watercolors, markers, crayons or even purple gluesticks. The classroom I teach in is play-based and has none of the overt pre-reading and writing curriculum of “academic” preschool programs—(yes, such things as academic preschools exist). We do offer a word-rich environment and engage in many of the best practices activities that help children get ready to learn to read, but we do it in a way that disguises it as play.
This week as some of my students have run over to me, thrilled at having discovered another B-word, I have been thinking about something else. I have been thinking about the C-word: CURSIVE. I have not spent much time really thinking about cursive script and its place in modern literacy, but working with 3-year olds has raised the issue, at least in my own head.
I am left wondering why we teach kids one series of letters to start with and then switch over and teach them an entirely different set a few years later. It seems a bit much to me. We don’t do this with numbers. If you step back and think about it for even two seconds, you can see that it would be stupid to teach children how to write the digits from zero to nine and then, three or four years later, to teach them a different way to write those same digits.
I am going to say it out loud: teaching cursive is a waste of time. Once a child learns how to form the letters, they can do all they need to do to communicate their thoughts in writing. The keyboard I am looking at right now has 26 upper case printed letters on it. The keypad on my phone has printed upper case letters. Is cursive used anywhere in the everyday world any more? And if not, why do we waste time teaching it?
I am generally a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to teaching things at school. My sixth graders have had to memorize the states and capitals. In the past, they had to memorize the American Presidents in order. I have even taught them how to find a square root using a long-hand algorithm instead of a calculator. I believe there is a value in knowing how to do hard things by hand or mentally. I no longer see any academic value in teaching or learning cursive writing.
The newly adopted Common Core State Standards for English do not require cursive, but states can choose to teach cursive if they want to. Many states are opting out. There are many arguments for the continued teaching of cursive; it connects us to our past, it teaches fine motor control, and it is faster than printing. Using a slide rule would connect us to the past, too. There are other tools to develop fine motor control. And studies show kids print just as fast as they write cursive. In fact, fourth and fifth graders write much slower in cursive.
A hundred years ago students were taught calligraphy and I imagine some parents were concerned when schools stopped instruction in that beautiful-but-unnecessary art form. The same will be true today as schools decide it is a waste of time to teach children how to write twice. But as I teach my three-year olds what the letters look like, I come down firmly on the side of dumping cursive. It just makes sense.