Back-To-School Supplies: Who Needs Pencils?

girl_with_pecil_learning_cursiveIf you’ve walked into a Target or Walmart in the last few weeks, you know what season it is: Back to School.

Kids and parents are buzzing around shelves and bins of spiral notebooks, packets of lined filler paper, planners, colored pocket folders, pencils, pencil cases, Sharpies, highlighters, erasers and hand sanitizer.

But wait: Pencils? For what?

Cursive — writing where you create letters that are joined and flowing — is no longer taught in many U.S. schools. Today’s students spend more time with smartphone and laptop keyboards than with pencil and paper. The implication: Writing by hand is obsolete.

In fact, Common Core standards adopted widely in 2010 do not require teaching cursive. Only 15 states still include it in their curriculum.

So why do today’s students need pencils? Even in math, calculators are replacing the need to learn mathematical computation.

Some Legal Contracts Still Require a Signature
Electronic signatures are more widely accepted in business, but if you’re at an appliance store or a car dealership, you likely need to sign in person.

And if you don’t know how to write in cursive, how do you legibly sign your driver’s license? Your passport? A prenuptial agreement? A power-of-attorney designation? A last will and testament?

How do you write a personalized thank-you note?

Oh, right. No one writes thank-you notes anymore.

Alabama schools won’t conform
Alabama schools aren’t conforming to the no-cursive trend; in fact, as of August 22, 2016, not only will students in Alabama be required to learn cursive by the end of third grade; teachers will need to report cursive proficiency levels at the end of each year.

Despite pervasive electronic devices, advocates for cursive claim that handwriting teaches broader motor skills, increases retention, and improves reading and spelling ability. They believe that students master language faster with handwriting than with keyboard use.

Those who oppose teaching cursive claim that reading, composition, math, science — and programming — are more important subjects than cursive. Students need to learn to reason and to express ideas and thoughts quickly and efficiently, say those who prefer that students do all of their work on keyboards.

But how much time and how many years should it take to learn cursive? The Alabama suggestion, by the end of third grade, sounds reasonable.

Cursive isn’t a high school course. There’s plenty of time to move on to more-complicated subjects.

And couldn’t you compare learning cursive to learning to ride a bike? Once you know how, you have it for life. You don’t need ongoing training or even a yearly refresher course.

My work requires cursive
In my career as an independent business writer, I’ve spent many hours on construction sites and manufacturing shop floors, in branch banks and retirement facilities, with clipboard and pen, moving around, observing, asking questions and taking notes. Sometimes I’d add a small diagram or draw arrows to help me decipher how to interpret what I recorded on-site.

How would I have managed that with a laptop or a tablet? Hold the device in my left hand and work the keyboard with the five available digits on my right hand?

I’m no Luddite. I love my Mac and my iPhone.

But I do hope that in schools where cursive is ignored, parents will step in to help their children at least learn to write a legible signature.

As for me, I say, “Bring back the pencils!”

Any teachers or parents want to comment?

Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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2 thoughts on “Back-To-School Supplies: Who Needs Pencils?

  1. morst

    You could print instead? Do the letters HAVE to be connected?

    I quit trying to improve my handwriting in 3rd grade because I felt that it was a waste of time, and I quit using cursive entirely in 8th grade.

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Yes, you could print — if you don’t mind the time it takes. And even a squiggle can pass as an official “signature,” if you don’t mind that it’s not legible. For me, cursive is about efficiency, although I’m not willing to ignore those who claim that learning to write in cursive helps us better learn and understand language. Appreciate your comments, morst.

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