Forget cursive: Teach kids how to code
Name the last time, besides your signature, that you wrote or read anything in cursive.
Chances are that you can't. Neither can the National Governors Association, which left it out of the new Common Core educational standards. In response, seven states — California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Utah — are writing cursive requirements back into the curriculum.
"Modern research indicates that more areas of the human brain are engaged when children use cursive handwriting than when they keyboard," Idaho state Rep. Linden Bateman (R) told the Associated Press. "It's beyond belief to me that states have allowed cursive to slip from the standards."
Bateman, 72, says that he pens 125 handwritten notes every year, which certainly sounds nice. But the fact is that there is no need for cursive — a signature is just as legally binding in print. Plus, most people communicate mainly via computers and smartphones, as evidenced by the dying U.S. Postal Service. Morgan Polikoff, education professor at the University of Southern California, argues for the death of cursive in The New York Times:
There is little compelling research to suggest the teaching of cursive positively affects other student skills enough to merit its teaching. While both research and common sense indicate students should be taught some form of penmanship, there is simply no need to teach students both print and cursive.
The architects of the standards certainly weighed the inclusion of cursive and believed there was no need to include it… Doing so would simply result in a crowded, less-focused curriculum, undermining the strength of the standards. [New York Times]
An hour spent teaching cursive is an hour spent not teaching something that will actually be relevant to children's lives — like computer education, a subject that is severely underserved in today's schools. Think about an eight-year-old's future: What is his or her future boss going to be more impressed by, the ability to write cursive or to code?
Not that you can set a third-grader in front of a computer screen and teach her PHP or Java. There are, however, plenty of ways to introduce kids to the building blocks of coding that could pay big dividends later in their lives.
If children are "old enough to read, understand cause and effect, and motivated," they can learn simple drag-and-drop programs that will prepare them to code, wrote Lifehacker's Melanie Pinola earlier this year.
By sixth grade or even earlier, they could start learning Scratch, a basic, icon-based programming language developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. (Bonus: It's completely free.)
That could encourage more high school students to take computer science classes — which would please a lot of educators, seeing as computer science was the only STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field to see participation drop over the last 20 years.
The common perception is that computer programming is something that precocious young people simply pick up themselves. But it's not an accident that Silicon Valley has a serious diversity problem. When only 1.5 percent and 4.7 percent of Silicon Valley programmers are black and Latino, respectively, it's hard to deny there is a class component to who is being pushed into computer science.
That is why groups like Computing in the Core are trying to make more advanced computer skills a regular part of K-12 education. There are barriers to teaching kids to code, mostly involving a lack of qualified teachers. Still, if the country wants more female and minority programmers — not to mention brighter economic prospects for all kids — it should consider making computer science, not cursive, a priority in the classroom.