Saturday, December 29, 2012

Make Your Mark - Just Put an "X"

Today I received a holiday card from a family with two teen-agers in it and the card brought me back to a conversation I had with two colleagues at a recent conference

Both colleagues had noted that their teenage children could not write their names.  On the card I received today – the signature of one of the children was printed and barely legible – so I thought I’d look around - something to think about.

Angela Skinner Mullen
This fall, the state of Indiana will no longer require their public schools to teach cursive writing, as they want to shift their focus to keyboarding skills.

There are 43 other states that have decided that teaching cursive in schools is optional – at the discretion of the districts. While many see the upcoming generation as the tech generation – never before has there been more computing, texting, and the like – what about learning to write properly? Is it going to go completely by the wayside?

Utah dropped cursive from its core curriculum in 2010 when it agreed to standardize these guidelines with several other states in the Nation. Apparently the states agreed together to drop the skill from the list of required skills for students to learn.

But business transactions and manylegal activities often required signatures on specific documents. Those who could not write a legible signature met those requirements by "making their mark" usually a simple letter X.

As the years progressed and access to schools increased, most people learned how to sign their names, so "making their mark" wasn't as necessary. Penmanship was an essential part in the curriculum, and every pupil spent part of the school day learning how to write well.

Today, increasing numbers of news reports indicate that many schools are no longer teaching cursive writing because, as some school systems have indicated, they can't "waste time teaching the curls and swirls necessary for cursive writing." They say they have better use for the limited number of hours in the school day. Printing is becoming the "technique du jour" or the "new normal," in today's jargon.

Over coffee, my friend, who is a teacher, told me that when she was teaching a summer school class consisting of students from several classes and schools, she had written something on the board in cursive on the very first day. Looking out over the class, about half of the students appeared unfazed by the words on the board. The other half were totally baffled by this long, looping string of squiggles she’d just created. These students never learned how to write in cursive and so they couldn’t read anything written on the board.

As my friend pointed out, if they can’t read what she’s written on the board during a summer school session, they certainly can’t read important historical documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Robbing future generations of the ability to write in cursive not only diminishes their ability to perform handwritten tasks like writing letters, it also endangers their capability to understand and quashes their interest in the recent past.

But beyond writing school assignments and thank-you notes to grandparents, parents may be worried that their child won’t learn how to write his or her own signature. Collop validates this concern.

“Think about your own personal response to getting a typewritten versus printed versus cursive thank-you note from an adult. And think about all the legal documents you sign as an adult. The majority require both printed and signed (cursive) signatures,” she says.

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