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You blog/newsletter readers have already seen me rant about state efforts to mandate cursive education, but that earlier item didn’t run in the Concord Monitor. So I wrote a longer rant that ran in Tuesday’s paper, shown below. As of right now my email is leaning 3-1 on the “how dare you diss cursive?” side of the argument, including a scolding piece from the “past president of the Handwriting Analysis Society.”

When I was in high school I was taught to use a slide rule, even though the venerable technology had recently been made irrelevant by calculators.

The irrelevance didn’t matter to my gray-haired algebra teacher, who insisted it was still valuable to learn about what my dad called a slip-stick. Calculators may give instant accuracy to many decimal places, he said, but the slide rule creates a visual understanding of computation, provides a deep knowledge of logarithms, and teaches invaluable lessons about estimating.

Maybe so, but still irrelevant. I would have been much better served if he had spent the time discussing matrices, which confuse me to this day. Learning to manipulate a slide rule was a waste of class time.

You know what else is a waste of class time? Forcing New Hampshire elementary school teachers to spend less time teaching things needed for the 21st century so they can spend more time teaching things from the 19th century.

I refer to cursive writing, which our state legislature wants to make a mandatory part of public elementary school lessons. House Bill 170 would take an existing law that encourages “instruction in cursive handwriting” and make it a requirement by 5th grade.

There are good reasons to teach cursive writing, of course. It develops fine motor skills, it can be beautiful, it can keep a child interested while they absorb details about spelling and grammar and the English language, it is part of our cultural legacy. But the same can be said for teaching calligraphy, code-breaking and limericks.

Cursive used to be a mandatory skill because you needed it to function. Those days are gone, replacing by typing, speech-to-text and optical character recognition. These day writing in script is a relic, the lexicological equivalent of the slide rule.

I doubt if the average adult writes two sentences in cursive a month these days, except for their signature. (By the way, signatures printed in block letters are just as legal as any squiggly line.) And what was the last time you had to read anything in cursive?

Requiring the teaching of cursive would be reasonable if class time was infinite, but it’s not. Forcing teacher to add it to the curriculum will knock something else out – economists call this “opportunity cost” – and there are too many things children need to learn in this bewildering era to squander time on a nostalgia exercise.

It’s especially ironic that a demand for old-timey writing technology has emerged just as ChatGPT and other large language models are upending the whole concept of writing.

So why has this silly effort come forward? Two reasons.

One is that everybody thinks they’re an expert in education because we all attended school. Nobody ever argues with their road agent about the relative value of cold patch vs. hot top to fix potholes, but lots of people argue with their principal about the relative value of phonics vs. look-and-say to teach reading.

The other reason is more subtle.

Most advocates of cursive don’t really care about handwriting. They want to enforce cursive on kids because it’s a symbol to them of some fabled olden time, an era when the people they didn’t like weren’t so uppity and when society’s values were closer to their ideal. Or so they like to imagine.

Plus, if requiring cursive makes it harder to teach children about changes happening in the world so much the better to people who fear that change is hurting their status. It’s a feature, not a bug! (Although they’d never use that terminology; it’s too modern.)

The bill passed the state House and Senate and I imagine Gov. Sununu won’t miss this chance for some virtue signaling, so expect sales of Palmer Method Penmanship booklets to spike next fall.

I gotta say, though, that if my school district adds a budget line item for goose-quill pens, I’m voting “no” at town meeting.

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