Literacy’s Last Hurrah


The decision makers in the Teaching of Reading debacle are taking a final wrong path and from this new error there will be no return. After more than six decades of untested fads, illogical theories, and futile practices, the public education theater production has begun its final act. “The End” will be devastation. Einstein once predicted that the weapons of the future would be “sticks and stones.” I suggest that the educational tools of the future will be…soft clay and stiff reeds. You see, the educational-powers-that-be have now decided that schools must stop teaching cursive penmanship, which will ultimately result in a return to primitive, preliterate skills.

Consider this…We speak in cursive. Our mouths, teeth, tongue, and lips control and coordinate breath and voice so that we not only articulate sounds but blend them, one into the other; so that we blend words, one into the other. In both external and internal language; in both expressive and receptive language; we do not separate sounds and spellings to create choppy thought processes. We say “stop” not “s/t/o/p." We say “Seethebrowndog” rather than “See/the/brown/dog." Cursive handwriting mimics and reinforces the natural language flow of brain processing whereas the act of printing causes the brain to stop, start, and fragment the understanding and full use of language.

From my observations and experiences during 40 years of teaching children and adults with language and literacy delays, I strongly believe that cursive handwriting not only supports the acquisition of literacy, but actually teaches and reinforces basic reading skills! As a child does cursive writing, the rhythmic and purposeful movements of the hand and pencil echo and reinforce the child’s thoughts and speech, matching and practicing those two basic and automatically acquired skills. Children master language without effort. With cursive writing, learners can see and feel the reading process pouring forth from their hands in reverse. Why would such a tool not help to make up for missing and/or ineffective classroom instruction and curriculum?

Instead of putting an end to the teaching of cursive, schools would be very wise to introduce and begin cursive instruction in First Grade using a curriculum such as Cursive First. (More information here.) Every child would be the better for it; would be further alone and solidly on their way to a literate and productive future. Print instruction can easily be delayed until literacy skills are solidified and until there is even a need for neat print…like in high school drafting classes.

As usual in the bass-ackwards world of education, teachers, administrators, and decision makers neither notice not understand the problems and consequences of forcing children – who naturally listen and speak in cursive – to shatter the natural linkages of language by stop & start printing of separated and fractured phonemes. Frankly, it is a wonder that any children actually learn to read and write while being given damaging instruction using counter-intuitive methods.

But therein lies the root of the failure of America’s educational systems…the Educated Idiots never seem to wonder. They never wonder if Weirdo-Fad A will actually improve student learning and retention. They never wonder if Strange-Activity B will do more harm than good. They never wonder why American prisons are full of 3rd grade level readers. (Hint: The Look-Say Method lifts learners to that level. The deaf, who lack the ability to hear, store, retrieve, and use any phonetic information, too often graduate high school with Third Grade reading levels.)

Most importantly, the Educated Idiot Decision Makers never wonder if they should first try Counter-Productive-Fad Z on a test population before inflicting it on every child in the nationwide schooling system. How maddening that these so-called-experts never even wonder if the failure of the schools; the diminishing of potential in tens of millions of individuals; and the ultimate destruction of America should be blamed on them. (Note: It should.)

Not only do these so-called experts fail to wonder, they, themselves are apparently not fully and competently literate. I doubt that they even understand that "being literate" once involved more that a getting a fluctuating-pass score on some non-standardized test like the Michigan MEAP. When I was in school (in Michigan, 1953-1966), literacy was taught during classes and lessons in: Reading. Spelling. Writing. Penmanship. Grammar. Vocabulary development. Literature. Diagramming. Rhetoric. Oration. Debate. Foreign language. Linguistics. Comparing vs. contrasting. Critical analysis, and more. Much more.

Logical and literate individuals should not be capable of making the utterly inexcusable decisions that the so-called-experts make regarding educational methods. I conclude that those "experts" have either acted with Stupidity or with Evil Intent. Look at their record and decide. They threw out phonics. They dismissed the importance of neat handwriting. They stopped teaching grammar. They negated the value of spelling lessons, claiming that there are “hundreds of spelling rules and an exception to break every one of them.” (Aside: There are only 29 spelling rules and almost anything that appears to be an exception is really a word of foreign origin. Try as America might, it has no power to force foreign languages to fit English spelling and grammar rules.) These stupid…or evil…decision makers have pushed the children of America over one New Math cliff after another New-New Math cliff. These educated fools are so lacking in wonder and so devoid of intellectual curiosity and conscience that the only recommendation they can now make is to…not teach! Teachers are told to now push the use of computers, spell checkers, calculators, writing groups, peer editing, peer tutoring, student-discovery of algorithms, and worse. Now, the Educated Idiot Decision Makers summarily dismiss cursive instruction.

With the end of cursive instruction, the die will be cast and the loss of potential immeasurable. Our future citizens will not even be able to have a signature! They will not be able to “sign here” and will instead need to print their names or resort to the pre-literate “make your mark here____” system.

However, future signatures will be the least of our worries. Literacy rates are low now, but they are only a warning of the near-total illiteracy that the end of cursive instruction will finalize. As the popular phrase goes, we have not seen anything yet.

The only hope of preventing the final act in the Progressives' War on American Schools is to take back our local schools. We must demand that local school boards reinstate the teaching of cursive instruction. We must insist that the children of America be assigned very competent teachers who not only use and teach accurate cursive for every aspect of instruction, but who also expect neatness and precision from the students, for all written work, on paper and on boards, black or otherwise. If we fail to rise up to fight and win this battle, it may be our last chance. God forbid.

Linda Schrock Taylor Archives