The Handwriting on the Wall
A recent Washington Post article chronicled the decline of cursive and penmanship instruction in schools.
Apparently, now that an essay is required on the SAT, only 15% of test takers wrote their samples in cursive. Everyone else used block print letters. Why? This is the first generation to grow up with computers available since birth. Most children now type even their early writing assignments. So while schools do a cursory look at cursive, they don't spend hours and hours on it the way they used to.
I have mixed feelings about this, particularly as it relates to gifted children. On one hand, typing requires a lot less fine motor coordination than cursive (and voice recognition software can type for people who can't master a keyboard -- an option not available with pen and paper). One of the things that holds many young gifted writers back is that their fine motor skills haven't developed as fast as their brains and their imaginations. You may have a great story in your head, but it's easy to get frustrated when your fingers make little chicken scratches on a piece of paper. Furthermore, as the Post article notes, studies show that people judge writing more harshly when the handwriting used is poor. Since this has absolutely nothing to do with the content, the widespread use of typing, even in the early grades, should level the playing field in a way that allows insight to triumph over coordination.
On the other hand... My family spent half a school year in California when I was in third grade. My elementary school class in North Carolina learned cursive while I was gone. My California class learned it right after I left. Consequently, I had to (mostly) teach myself the letters. I still am not sure why upper-case Qs look like 2s, but I did discover that I really like making those little squiggles. I write in my journal in cursive. The letters flow quickly in a way that they don't in printed block letters. Research backs this up. Free-flowing letters, the Post notes, correspond to simpler, shorter compositions (that's a good thing, as any teacher who's had to correct a windy, overwrought essay can tell you). Even if you ultimately intend to type, the quick nature of cursive writing has benefits for rough drafts. You can get your thoughts down quickly, then cross out and move sentences around with arrows as you wish.
I'm curious what other people think about the decline of cursive, and whether it's a good or bad thing for young writers. Are your children's schools teaching the topic?