When I sit with him in the evenings as he completes his writing exercises, I cannot help but marvel at the magic and beauty that is writing, and how this medium of communicating ideas and emotions through written symbols separates us from all other creatures on the planet. If someone asked me to name five distinguishing features of our species, I would certainly include writing as one of them, for I can think of few things that have had such an immense influence on our development.
Teaching cursive is still a part of the national curriculum here in Hungary, but many countries in the West consider longhand obsolete and have excluded it from their curriculums. When I was a first-year high school English teacher in the Bronx, New York, I was shocked to learn that most students could not read or write cursive script. My students used printed block letters in their own work, but when I examined the quality of their penmanship, I quickly realized barely any had really mastered that skill either. Aside from being terribly depressing, this reality started me thinking that perhaps dropping cursive from the curriculum had not simply been a bad idea, but perhaps a malicious one as well.
Educators who argue against cursive writing see it as a superannuated technology with no viable place in our new and exciting Digital Age - this despite the many studies citing the psychological and cognitive benefits of learning longform writing. In the vast majority of schools today, children are taught to master some form of legible print writing in grades one, two, and perhaps three, and are then seated before a keyboard to learn "digital skills."
I have nothing against teaching children to type or use a computer, but my past experience as a teacher proved, to me at least, that learning cursive has immense benefits. Of the students I taught, the ones who knew cursive were, without exception, far more disciplined, focused, and articulate - both in writing and speaking. They were better at concentrating and tended to be less impulsive and disruptive. Interestingly, students who could write longhand were also immensely better at typing, which was likely linked to the fine motor skills they had mastered when they had learned cursive. Yet, despite the many studies showing the benefits of longhand - benefits I saw firsthand as a teacher - most school boards are increasingly opting out of teaching cursive to children, which makes me wonder if there is more to the story than the "it's obsolete" argument.
Putting all other considerations for its exclusion aside for a moment, I hypothesize cursive may be in the process of being banished from most curricula because of its inherent - wait for it - spirituality. By spirituality I am not referring to the occult or any sort of automatic writing, psychography, or spirit channeling made fashionable by writers such as W.B. Yeats, but rather to the metaphysical attributes of writing - the filtering out of the outside world, the calming of the noisy consciousness, and the drawing out of the inner Self that are, given the proper conditions, all part of the writing process.
This is more or less speculation on my part, but I am pulled toward the belief that writing, especially in longhand is, in essence, a metaphysical act. Given the right circumstances and the proper frame of mind, writing offers the potential for spirituality, for deep contemplation, and for genuine creation. I am not claiming that every act of writing is spiritual in nature, but like prayer or long walks in nature, writing can establish a frame of mind that opens up the writer to the possibility of spiritual experience in the form of peak experiences or epiphanies. Regardless of the method employed, writing contains spiritual aspects - there is something quite "mystical" about the transcription of thought onto paper through symbols, the direct live-wire connection, and the current that flows from the mind through the pen (matter).
Teaching cursive at an early age might lay the groundwork for this kind of experience. The flow and pace of cursive writing may best regulate and harness the flow and pace of thought. A student is essentially forced to block out distractions, turn their attention inward, and listen to what his or her mind is "saying." The thinking skills learned by extensive cursive writing can then perhaps be transfered to a keyboard and a computer.
Of course, I am not implying that writing, regardless of the technology employed, is purely and solely a spiritual act, but the potential is certainly there. Whatever the case may be, I am pleased my son is learning to write cursive script. If he was not learning cursive at school, I would certainly teach him to do so at home because acquiring the skill appears to lay the foundation for deeper thought, concentration, and contemplation.
Despite arguments to the contrary, I believe excluding cursive writing from education is not only detrimental, but malicious. I am certain many will consider me a Luddite on this issue, but I am convinced that eliminating cursive writing from education is not only harmful, but intentionally harmful. That education systems around the world actively incorporate harmful pedagogy into their practice should surprise no one. A cursory examination of most curricula in the West instantly reveals that most of what is taught in schools today is indeed intently and purposefully focused on doing far more harm than good - the elimination of cursive writing is just one example of the many ways education systems are succeeding in doing just that.