As I write this, I’m sitting in a classroom at Toronto’s Humber College, where I teach a post-graduate “Writing for Radio” course. Basically, I teach people how to write commercials – something I’ve been doing for more than thirty years. Right now, my students are in the middle of writing their mid-term exams.
I say “writing”, but what I’m actually surrounded by is the sound of more than two hundred fingers dancing over keyboards. There’s not a pen to be seen anywhere in the room. Because really, who writes an exam anymore? For that matter, who writes anything?
That’s the question that has sparked a debate among educators. One of the people leading the charge to get rid of cursive in the classroom and the curriculum is George Couros, Principal of Innovative Teaching for Parkland School Division in Edmonton, who told Canada AM this week that “Technology and literacy are continuously developing and I think we need to really focus on what we do in school to help kids connect with the world.”
Back when I learned how to do it, we called it “typing”. Now they call it “keyboarding”, which for some reason always makes me think of Dick Cheney. By the standards of the day, I was relatively young when I learned to type. I had to; I started writing professionally at the age of 14, and in an environment where pretty much everyone had a typewriter on their desk, being able to type was as important as being able to get to the office.
In some ways, I wish I had stayed with writing things out by hand; writing with a pen just feels different. It makes the whole creative process feel different. Remember, Shakespeare wrote his stuff out with a quill (and made copies for the actors), and he was a pretty decent writer. I can’t even picture Shakespeare at a typewriter, let alone sitting in front of Microsoft Word with an “Olde English” font loaded up.
Confession time: I’ve sent things to my ink-jet printer in a handwriting font to make them look more personal.
For me, it’s a speed thing. When you write as many words a week as I do, time is money. And since I can type about ten times faster than I can write, it’s a no-brainer. Besides, driving my material to my editor’s office located in Downtown Toronto is just impractical.
In my own case, I grew up with cursive, and migrated to the keyboard out of practicality. And in retrospect, I miss cursive sometimes. If I’d spent more time with cursive, my students wouldn’t struggle to see the things I’ve written on the whiteboard. If I’d worked harder on my cursive writing skills, my friends wouldn’t get Christmas cards that led them to wonder if I’d secretly become a doctor (if you’ve ever tried to read something on a prescription pad, you know what I mean).
So now I look at my daughter, and I wonder how to get her thinking about cursive – something that, even at the ripe old age of eight, she tells me they’re not spending much time on in school. (Again, maybe staying away from cursive in an attempt to get them ready for Med school.)
Here are some of the ideas I’ve stumbled across:
Reinforce that writing is special
Have your child make a card for a grandparent or other relative that they feel a unique bond with (it might even be Mom or Dad). When the question comes up about why they’re doing it by hand, point to other examples that are common in your house, where it feels good to know that someone invested time and effort into doing something for you. And give them examples of the good feeling they get when they work hard on something that makes someone happy.
Take advantage of things they already do
If your kid is like mine, she’s still obsessed with coloring, drawing and painting. So in our house, making the leap to cursive isn’t a leap at all. She loves her time in front of Dad’s laptop playing kid-friendly games, but she spends far more time with some kind of creative instrument in her hands that leaves actual marks on actual paper.
Get into the romance of writing
Granted, this one’s easier for girls than boys, but we’ve all seen at least one movie or television show where a young girl writes down her romantic dreams in the form of things like “Jessica + Justin” with little hearts on them. While you might not be as big a fan of encouraging her romantic notions (after all, depending on which “Justin” we’re talking about, that line could be pretty long).