Cursive in the Classroom: What Else is Becoming Obsolete?

The world has evolved significantly in the past century through the introduction of computers and other modern technology. Courses taught in educational institutions have frequently kept on pace with these exciting advances, which has required the addition of new concepts (e.g. computer skills, biomedical technology, etc.) and removal of some obsolete ones (e.g. cursive, typing, etc.)

Determining which concepts will be permanently left by the wayside is a challenge for most educators. Adoption of the Common Core Standards has provided guidance on which skills are most important for today’s learners, such as critical thinking and technology. Courses in topics that aren’t directly in support of these skills are frequently dropped to allow more time and attention for these new, challenging subjects.

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Cursive

Cursive is any form of writing in which letters are conjoined or flow from one to the next. It was initially used as a way to write faster and without lifting the pen, which was important when using a quill and ink. Rapid uptake of the ball-point pen in the early 1900’s and computer keyboard in the early 2000’s have since changed the need for cursive writing, as has the implementation of Common Core State Standards that don’t require its instruction. As cursive was not required and proficiency in many other subjects was, teachers frequently dropped cursive and penmanship from their curricula altogether.

Despite the decline in cursive instruction, some studies have shown that cursive can enhance learning and brain development. There is also the cultural demand for cursive, as signatures on official documents and the content of many historical documents are written in cursive. Considering these benefits, 12 states have included cursive handwriting requirements in their state teaching standards. However, the debate continues on whether teaching cursive is worth the time it takes from other more relevant subjects.

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Dewey Decimal System

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system is the most widely used classification system in the world for organizing books, documents, and other forms of knowledge based on their content. In the DDC, numeric call numbers of several digits–including a decimal point–are assigned to each document in a collection based on 10 general classes of knowledge (e.g. 332.32 for savings and loan associations and 371.192 for parent-school relations).

The numeric organizational hierarchy of the DDC makes sense for most adults but can be very challenging for young learners. The use of large numbers and decimal points is largely foreign to many small children and does little to get readers excited about each subject. In addition, the complexities of the system require librarians and educators to spend more time teaching it than actually helping students learn the book’s content. For these reasons, the DDC is being phased out in many libraries across the country.

Several alternatives to DDC already exist, with more being developed every year. The Library of Congress Classification system, used widely in universities, organizes documents using a combination of both letters and numbers in a non-hierarchical manner. More user-friendly organizational systems (like BISAC and Metis) can be found in bookstores and some school libraries across the U.S., which use familiar categories and simpler numbering schemes to help readers more easily browse for books. While some of the systems still incorporate Dewey Decimal numbering, organizing knowledge primarily through words as opposed to numbers seems to be preferred by readers.

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Typing

While typewriters and keyboards have been in use for centuries, the debut of the personal computer in the 1970s and 1980s made typing on a keyboard commonplace. This technological revolution also coincided with fewer typing classes being offered in schools since most students were learning to type on keyboards in their homes or in libraries.

Furthermore, the recent skyrocketing use of tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices with touchscreens, especially among children and teenagers, has made typing classes almost obsolete. After all, such formal training in “touch typing” (using the home row keys) is relatively useless without the ability to actually feel the physical cues on the “F” and “J” keys of a traditional keyboard.

The generation currently in schools has likely taught themselves how to type through the “hunt and peck” method of typing, which is simple but rather slow (10-30 words per minute) and requires significant thought just to find the right keys for typing a sentence. This is in contrast to touch typing, which is a form of cognitive automaticity that frees the brain to think of ideas while the fingers automatically relay them onto the screen. As students almost exclusively use computers in today’s world for writing papers and essays, teaching them touch typing in school would allow them to focus on the content of the work and not where that question mark is on the keyboard.

7 Comments

  1. Kathy Schrock

    January 11, 2017 at 7:47 am

    Joni, I agree that teaching the Dewey Decimal System took a lot of time in my library in the card catalog days, as evidenced by this video from 1983: https://vimeo.com/126691756

    However, since online catalogs allow users to search all books by keyword, whether the keyword is in the title of the book or the description. I don’t believe anyone needs to “learn” then-fiction numbering system anymore. The Dewey Decimal number is just the shelf locator number for the item the students wants.

    However, once students get to that area of the stacks, they can easily browse books on that same topic and even books that are more specific about that same topic. The DDC system allows for very specific cataloging of titles so they do show up in the areas of interest to the students.

    I do not believe this classification system is obsolete because it leads students to their specific area of need/want and, at the same time, allows them to browse other titles of the same topic.

  2. Susan Wooten

    January 11, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    The only thing these things that you call obsolete have in common is that they require time and effort to learn. Using the DDC in my library means that I or any visitor can access my digital catalog, find a book or video using the call number. Can I do that at B&N, or BAM? Absolutely not! Even with my 20 years of experience in library services, I have to ask someone to help me with a search. Why, because one week “To kill a mockingbird” might be in the main aisle and the next week it might be on a shelf with American classics. And aspiring to have your library be like a bookstore is stupid. I have not heard one argument in favor of ditching DDC ever that would make my job easier.

  3. Paul Perkins

    January 13, 2017 at 4:38 am

    well explained article thank you for sharing this..practicing cursive writing is a great advantage as it improves the speedoff writing ,even the computer keybaird typing is slower..it trains the brain to visual information..every children right from kindergarden…as pen is mightier than the keyboard researchers found that students who copy notes by hand are much more conceptual to th eone who copy in their laptops …

  4. Linda Aragoni

    January 14, 2017 at 10:52 am

    I wonder why schools have not long since adopted simplified keyboards like the Dvorak. I don’t think my aged fingers and equally aged brain would adapt well to a new layout (even though I’m great with QWERTY), but the Dvorak looks so simple with its most used keys in the home row, I’ve been tempted to try it.

  5. Ron Abate

    January 18, 2017 at 8:32 am

    The advent of computers in the form of desktops, laptops and tablets along with the development of the internet is having a profound impact on education. Libraries are undergoing a transition where all literature is efficiently accessed via the internet. Physical books, including textbooks, will eventually disappear being replaced by online media. Librarians will transition into tech support specialist. The room occupied by libraries will become places where students collaborate on group projects like 3D printing and face-to-face social interactions and collaboration.

  6. Madison

    February 18, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Joni, I enjoyed reading this article as it was something I was considering about a week ago when a student at an elementary school I volunteer at mentioned that she learned a few cursive letters that day (she is in 2nd grade). I learned cursive in the 3rd grade (about 12 years ago) and have always feared that it would be taken out of the curriculum. I remember my teacher threatening that I would have to write in only cursive when I got to 5th grade (which wasn’t the case) and honestly, I have never encountered a scenario where it was essential that I could write in cursive. With that being said, I think it is an essential part of our curriculum and if anything, has made me a more effective note-taker in college. I would also have to agree that there is less of a stress on typing these days, which surprises me with the prominence of technology. I would say that the majority of students in my college classes use a laptop to take notes and by looking at the keys and “pecking,” there is no way to keep up with the note taking and lecture material. I took a typing class in middle school which taught me the basics of typing and I would say that I am fairly proficient at typing today. Sadly, my brother didn’t take a course similar to this and is encountering the related struggles today when it takes him significantly longer to type a paper. Though some might consider cursive and typing as outdated, how can we encourage teachers to still focus on these topics that are still very relevant in the education system? I would love to hear your thoughts!

  7. Hannah Boggs

    March 5, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article and sharing it. I really liked this article as I believe that cursive should be taught in the classroom, but typing should not. Today students come into the classroom knowing how to type due to the students playing with iPads and iPhones. The time spent teaching the students something that they already know could be used to teach the students something that they don’t know yet.