Much ado about cursive writing and the Bard

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Now that school has been in session for more than three weeks, we have once more gone through the gambit of perennial pundit ‘back to school’ topics ranging from “why don’t we teach cursive writing anymore?” to “Why do we still teach Shakespeare?” In the spirit of learning, I will offer some insights on both matters so as not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.

First comes the discussion of cursive writing. Many folks will likely recall years of practice sheets where you worked on the slant, looping of letters and the finger spacing of words. Cursive writing was the staple for note-taking, writing letters, and crafting papers. Our teachers modelled beautiful writing and our efforts were subject to inspection, critique, and being posted on the bulletin board. These days, fraught with texting, emojis, and various wordsmithing applications, has made cursive writing is a diminished commodity. It is however, still in the curriculum.

Commencing in Grade 3, the English Language Arts program of study specifies that learners are to “print legibly, and begin to learn proper alignment, shape and slant of cursive writing space words and sentences consistently on a line and page.” Technological means of communication have superseded the demand to use cursive. While it is still taught, the demand is not the same as it was 20 or more years ago. While one could argue that this is but mere nostalgia for the days of hand-written cards and friendly letters, there is merit in considering the promotion of cursive writing.

Brain research suggests that when students take notes via cursive or printing versus using a word processing device, they are more likely to have better recall of the concepts being learned. The act of handwriting allows learners to process information and comprehend it simultaneously while those typing notes focus more on listening and transcribing. Those writing have placed the information into their brain in visual, psychomotor, and auditory ways. This, and the fact that we still need to sign documents, write casual notes to friends and create the occasional manual to-do lists, are a few reasons cursive should live on. Otherwise handwriting simply serves as a secret code to keep ideas away from those who cannot crack the cursive code.

Shakespeare used cursive writing! His plays have served as pillars of text study for centuries. There are some, who akin to their view on cursive writing, deem the Bard to be antiquated in relevance to modern learning contexts. Why do we continue to force students to read the works of “dead white guys?” The self-proclaimed experts, having read something on Wikipedia or Twitter, or those who fancy themselves as armchair curricular experts, cite their personal frustrations with Hamlet and Othello, which in my opinion amounts to much ado about nothing. Shakespeare is but one of many means teachers can engage learners in the study, interpretation, and appreciation of text. Bill’s plays are but one component of literary study. Modern, culturally diverse, and multiple genre texts are also utilized. We seek to create discerning readers who can explore nuances of texts both critically and for pleasure.

So to the pundits I say “there are more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  Happy writing and happy reading to all!

Tim Cusack is an educator, writer and member of the naval reserve.

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Tim Cusack