Posted by: Kathleen Mix | September 16, 2013

Cursive and Fiction

As millions of children go back to school, a quiet debate is bubbling in the background: to cursive or not to cursive.
The argument against teaching cursive goes something like this: no one writes letters anymore, all work is now done on computers, why do we need it?
My answer? The ability to write cursive may be less crucial, but the ability to read cursive is still important.
We need cursive so children can read early drafts of the Declaration of Independence written in Thomas Jefferson’s handwriting, glimpse the genius of the man, and feel the power and emotion of his words.
We need it so someone who wants to trace their genealogy can read the names of their ancestors who entered this country through Ellis Island.
We need it so a child who studies history can read original documents written by Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and other presidents and statesmen.
Any child who hopes to be a lawyer needs the ability to read handwritten documents that could help prove clear title to a property or be critical to winning a lawsuit or criminal case.
We need to write in cursive to express our individuality. Every person who learns cursive develops a unique signature that hints at his or her personality and is so distinctive it can be used to prove the identity of the signer. Will children who don’t learn cursive have printed signatures that another person can easily falsify?
I once read a short story by Isaac Asimov in which two young boys were raised in a society where audio books were the only available format and people dictated anything they wanted to record. One of the boys discovered an antiquated code called the alphabet, and the two boys learned to duplicate the symbols, group them together, and communicate secretly.
I thought of that story when I first heard the cursive debate. Asimov was a man with unlimited insight. I can only guess at the theme of his story written years before anyone said, “Why do we need cursive?”
Maybe he’d heard: Why do we need art education? Why do we need music education? Why do schools need sports, or why teach a foreign language? His mind may have taken a step further and asked: why will future generations need to learn to write?
So I ask: if we stop teaching cursive, will printing be the next skill to fade away?
Is fiction sometimes a prophecy? Are we headed for a future where a boy will discover our alphabet and consider its use wondrous?

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