FACE TO FACE: Should schools continue to teach 'joined-up' writing?
The trouble in all too many of our modern schools, says a favourite writer of mine, "is that the State, being controlled so specially by the few, allows cranks and experiments to go straight to the schoolroom when they have never passed through the Parliament, the public house, the private house, the church or the marketplace."
The observation is so timely that one might conclude the author, G.K. Chesterton, was commenting on current events. In fact, he was writing a century ago.
His insight into schooling came to mind in the wake of news reports this summer that the Indiana Department of Education had decided that, starting next month, public schools in that state would no longer have to teach cursive writing (also known as handwriting or "joined-up" writing). From now own, the emphasis will be on keyboarding.
This outbreak of experiment educational practice is limited to Indiana but we can guess that, like so many other educational contagions, it will quickly spread. Terra Haute and Fort Wayne today, Terrace and Port Coquitlam tomorrow.
Of course, my liberal-minded colleague on the other side of the page applauds the decision as yet another example of progressive thinking in education.
While it is true the decision is a reflection of our text-messaging, tweeting, smart-phoning, iPadding, instant-communicating age, it is not true that the rise of keyboarding should mean the handwriting is on the wall for handwriting.
Yes, I am typing this on a computer keyboard. And, yes, I am happy to have learned how to touch type when I was in high school.
But I also know that with no training in cursive writing, students will have reduced ability to read original, hand-written documents that form such a great part of our historical record.
As well, cursive writing is demonstrably quicker than block-letter or printing style of writing. It follows, then, that mastery of the cursive style gives one a distinct advantage when, for example, taking notes or tackling a written examination.
And, finally, there's the question of tradition, a word that is one rarely finds in the instruction manuals of today's education reformers. Whether in a note of sympathy or a cover letter, there's something special about handwriting that block printing or typed words simply cannot replace.
An award-winning journalist, a writer with Edmonton's Report Magazine and Toronto's Catholic Insight magazine, and co-host of RoadkillRadio.com, Face to Face columnist Terry O'Neill is a long-time Coquitlam resident who sits on the board of the Coquitlam Foundation and chairs the finance commitee of St. Joseph's Catholic parish.