Curses on Cursive

September 23, 2009

by Tammy Drennan 

There’s no end to what the powers that be can make into a major issue. Now they’re arguing over whether school children should be taught to write in cursive or if printing is good enough.

After all, one side argues, the only thing people write by hand anymore is personal stuff, like shopping lists (although my house sports five computers, we generate hundreds of pages of handwritten stuff each year).

Just a minute, the other side argues, cursive develops muscle control and hand-eye coordination (they could replace it with special non-cursive hand-eye exercises). Besides, they add, children could end up one day in some remote area without computers (maybe even their own backyards where they might see a butterfly and feel suddenly inspired to pen a poem).

At any rate, the important thing to understand here is that whoever wields the most political clout will win. Different views may win in different states or school districts, and one day, if we keep careening in the direction we’re going, we’ll have federal “standards” and everyone will develop the skill or not based on what Uncle Sam dictates.

If we think that the arguments aren’t even more vehement about other subjects, we kid ourselves. Let’s work harder yet to achieve full independence and rid ourselves of all this nonsense.

For over 150 years, America thrived without the state telling people how to write, yet clearly it was not a problem. The signers of the Declaration of Independence came from all manner of backgrounds. Some had a lot of formal schooling, some had virtually none. Yet they signed — then they wrote home about it, often eloquently — utilizing more than 140 characters — because they could, both mechanically and intellectually. Today’s students, by many accounts, lack both the mechanical and the intellectual skills to express their thoughts. Of course, all too often they lack thoughts worth writing, so maybe they don’t need the skills after all. Maybe schools could just teach how to twitter better.

The tragedy of all this is that there is strong evidence that children want to learn more, stretch their brains and skills, come to grips with the meaning of life on a deeper level. Even at the level of handwriting (200,000 entries in a penmanship contest), there’s evidence that children long for the substance state schools cannot offer for the very reason that they are state schools and unavoidably political.

In a world in which education is a free act of the people, instead of a state action against them, people will gravitate toward what benefits them in the lives they choose for themselves and what enables them to interact effectively with one another. Common knowledge and skills have always been common because people are naturally social creatures — they need and want each other and they do what they need to do to enrich their desires and to meet their needs. No government created this state of affairs, but like the proverbial Johnny-come-lately, almost every government has rushed in to try to take it over then take credit for literacy and human competence.

Enough is enough. Let’s leave them in the whirlwind of their own self-importance and just walk away. Let’s join relatives and friends and neighbors and fellow church members to create better options. Let’s take back our humanity.