Recently, the Lower School faculty devoted a faculty meeting to debating whether or not teaching cursive was worth the time it takes in the program. Teachers were divided into four teams and sent out to research the role and place of teaching cursive in the curriculum. Two teams had to argue against teaching cursive and two teams had to argue for it. Included in the process was a survey of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students and colleagues in the Middle and Upper Schools. With lighthearted combativeness the two sides squared off. All of the usual arguments against cursive were offered: students in the high school are never asked to write in cursive as so many of their peers are international and never learn to read cursive, key boarding is faster and helps kids output keep up with their brains, it’s a tool and now we have better tools, we have added so much to the program that this seems like something that could go. The arguments for keeping teaching cursive included those about the need to be able to read different forms of script including letters from grandparents and archival material, the importance of developing fine motor skills, the powerful ways in which cursive writing develops the brain and helps students see words as a collective of letters. The brain research seemed particularly compelling. One team argued that keyboarding versus cursive writing is a useless and false opposition of two different things and that both have value.
Lower School students reported decreasing interest in and facility with cursive writing over time. Third graders (the year cursive is taught) felt the most comfortable and used it most consistently. Each successive grade reported less facility with cursive and less inclination to use it as a means of written output. This led to the fruitful part of this light-hearted debate and to an airing of the real concern. Third grade teachers are responsible for taking the time to teach cursive to students. This is time they don’t have for other things. They are happy to teach cursive, if it remains a valuable skill students are using as they move up through the grades. Teachers of the upper grades had never thought of the impact of their individual decisions to not require students to use and practice cursive on the students’ fluency in writing in cursive. If it’s not going to be used, then it feels like a waste of time. If students are going to continue to use it, to grow in fluency so that the benefits of writing in cursive are developed and students come to see cursive as a wonderful way of organizing and communicating their thoughts, then taking the time to teach it in 3rd grade is time well spent. The value for 3rd grade teachers is related to the value given by teachers in the upper grades.
In the end, the decision was made to continue teaching cursive for the time being. Fourth and 5th grade teachers will incorporate more cursive assignments to support practice and skill building.