“Yes, that’s been a hot topic,” said the Board of Education President in response to my friend’s question at a school PTA meeting. My friend was asking about the teaching of cursive writing in his daughters’ elementary school—or rather the lack of the teaching of cursive writing (or script, as some parents call it).
My friend explained that he had gone up the chain of command—just as parents are asked to do in most school districts. He had asked his question of the classroom teacher and of the principal, and he had not gotten a straight enough answer.
Coincidentally, the Board President was at that PTA meeting to introduce herself and to let parents know the procedure for coming to a Board meeting to ask a question of the Board. You might guess that a Board meeting quickly became my friend’s next stop.
When he arrived at the Board meeting and asked his question about the teaching of cursive writing in the elementary grades, the Board turned the question over to the superintendent and assistant superintendent to answer—or not answer. “We’re working on it. On a timeline,” they replied. My friend followed up, “Will it take two months or 10 years?” “Oh, not 10 years, I hope,” the assistant superintendent continued.
Now, that is where things went awry. The Board remained, for all intents and purposes, silent. Had the Board already given any direction to the superintendent about this “hot topic,” as the Board President had described it? Had the Board already debated the merits of including cursive writing in the curriculum? Did the Board already know the history of the teaching of cursive writing in the district? Did the Board already have a policy on the teaching of cursive writing? I got the feeling that the answer to all of those reasonable questions was likely “no.”
And that’s too bad. Because my friend’s question is the kind of curriculum question that a Board and an administration should be listening to parents about. Not only parents, but also the rest of the taxpayers supporting the public schools and hiring the products the schools produce. Undoubtedly, at least some of those taxpayers would like to hire employees who can read and write in cursive.
Those of you who are interested in the debate over cursive writing might want to look at a piece done by Ruth Graham last April 5 in The Boston Globe: “Fighting to save cursive from the Common Core.” It is an interesting read and presents both sides of the issue. She also mentions several state legislatures that have at least encouraged public schools to teach cursive (which sounds a bit wishy-washy, for my tastes). By the way, let me say for the record that the Common Core in no way prevents an elementary school from teaching cursive writing.
As my mentor used to say to me, “Don’t get lost in the example.” While I believe that the issue of whether to teach cursive is a legitimate curriculum issue and worthy of discussion and debate, I also want to point out that my friend’s story is just one more example of Boards turning over curriculum decisions to the professional staff. As I have often written, curriculum decisions are the Board’s. The Board speaks for the taxpayers—including all of the parents—and must represent and weigh their views in making curriculum decisions. Of course, the professional staff weighs in on those decisions, too, before the Board makes them and must help the Board understand any constraints that have to be considered (like federal law or state education regulations). But the final decision should be the Board’s. That’s what local control is about.
But, let me get back to the example of cursive writing.
It is time to take a look at how your school district and your elementary schools address the teaching of cursive writing:
- Elementary school parents: Ask your school board if the board has a policy on teaching cursive in the elementary grades and, if so, ask the board to discuss the policy and its implementation. Ask the board to discuss any state standards or regulations that constrain the policy.
If the board does not have a policy on teaching cursive, ask the board to consider the adoption of such a policy. What are the opinions of parents in the district? What are the opinions of other taxpayers in the district? What are the opinions of teachers, principals, and central office administrators?
This discussion should be part of an open board meeting, but board members should have the opportunity to get the input of the superintendent before the meeting.
Absent any board policy, ask your principal about the teaching of cursive in your elementary school. Ask your principal about any district standards or regulations that would impact the teaching of cursive in your school. Ask your principal about the opinions of the parents and teachers in the school. Offer to help gather the opinions of parents if that has not already been done—for example, by calling parents to encourage them to complete a brief questionnaire put together by the principal and a committee of parents and teachers.