The recent news that Florida schools will mandate instruction in cursive writing next school year was a head scratcher, principally because many of us weren’t aware schools aren’t teaching this most basic skill.
In reality, schools haven’t quit teaching cursive completely. The state Board of Education currently requires that students begin learning cursive writing in the third grade, but the policy isn’t explicit. Individual school districts determine how much to emphasize cursive.
But some school administrators admit there has been a significant shift away from it to accommodate anti-drug and anti-bullying instruction now required by the state. One parent told Daily Commercial Staff Writer Millard Ives last week that her fifth grader didn’t start learning cursive until she pulled her out of public school, and another said her child couldn’t sign his name.
It might seem progressive at some level to de-emphasize handwriting in favor of more contemporary skills. This generation is growing up in the technology age, after all, and so much of their communication occurs through keyboards.
And yet the entire business world still requires this skill. You can’t apply for a mortgage, get a driver’s license or fill out a basic job application without signing your name.
We have to wonder about an education system that skimps on instruction for such a fundamental skill. That, and the recent revelation that most schools in Lake County won’t give any child a grade less than 50 in hopes of improving students’ chances of passing, gives us reason to pause and reflect on the direction of public education.
Schools exist to pass knowledge to children, to teach them critical thinking skills and to help them learn to socialize. But t hey also exist to prepare students for the adult world, where they will need basic skills to compete in the job market and where merit is rewarded.
When we fail to provide adequate instruction in something as basic as cursive writing, and when we give students significant handicaps that enable them to pass without putting forth strong effort, we impede their growth and diminish their chances of success later.
That is not to say that the public education system is failing. It continues to produce some of the brightest minds in the world.
But at a time when educators are forced to adapt to changing cultural and social norms, they would be wise to carefully assess what skills and values remain relevant in today’s world and continue to teach those aggressively.