Last week my friend and Democratic District 33 Senate candidate Robin Page voiced her displeasure at the removal of cursive handwriting from the Rapid City School District curriculum. Blame that on Common Core: the new mostly nationwide education standards tell teachers to work on handwriting with kindergartners and first-graders, then focus on keyboarding.
And as much as I love computers, handing kids keyboards instead of pencils and pens may mean they they learn less:
Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.
“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.
“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier” [Maria Konnikova, "What's Lost as Handwriting Fades," New York Times, 2014.06.02].
An example of the benefits of handwriting appears in note-taking:
Cursive or not, the benefits of writing by hand extend beyond childhood. For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information. Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.
Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding [Konnikova, 2014.06.02].
Permit me to contribute my anecdotal experience to the empirical data: I've seen the same effect in my own note-taking. I can type faster than I can write longhand. But whether I'm in class or interviewing someone for the blog, I feel as if I process and recall information better when I write it by hand. (I haven't noticed a difference yet between writing with pen on paper and writing with stylus on electronic tablet.)
Common Core opponents, you can keep arguing about the arcanities of government databases and Soviet-style homogenization. But if you really want to fight Common Core standards, I humbly suggest that a nuts-and-bolts research-based argument that dropping handwriting weakens kids' ability to learn will get ten times the traction for your cause.
Related: Diane Ravitch contends that Bill Gates should face Congressional hearings for short-circuiting federalism and buying the education system to promote Common Core.