Sparked by an embarrassed admission of ignorance from a witness who could not read a letter provided to her during the trial of George Zimmerman, a debate has begun to sweep the U.S. over whether it is important for young people to learn to read and write cursive handwriting, or whether the skill is as antiquated and irrelevant to modern life as Morse code or Gregg shorthand.
Detractors say the ubiquity of typed and printed text makes cursive unnecessary. The bulk of written communication by today’s youth is conducted via text message and email, although even the latter is starting to fade into obsolescence. On the other hand, proponents argue that cursive increases the speed and efficiency of writing, and that knowledge of it is needed to maintain a link with the past, facilitating the reading of important historical documents written generations ago.The Common Core standards recently adopted by most of the United States do not include cursive as a requirement, a matter of some concern for many.
The fact that this debate and others like it can persist and become so heated demonstrates the problem with imposing one rule on millions of people with different backgrounds, values and priorities. I happen to believe cursive is a valuable thing to know, although my handwriting is not nearly as good as I would like. Others disagree. Why should I force my opinions upon them or vice versa? These sorts of arguments show why we need a functioning market for education, in the same way we have for a thousand other goods. No one argues over whether cars should come equipped with CD players or whether CDs are useless relics of the past, because everyone is free to buy a vehicle that satisfies his individual needs. There is no reason why education should not be handled in the same way.
With competing education, more school choice and less regulation on homeschooling, the parents who think cursive is important can ensure that their children learn it. The ones who disagree will not be forced to waste their children’s time on things that seem pointless to them.
Just as college students can choose to learn Latin – which many would call a useless skill but others recognize as helpful for understanding the history and structure of English as well as language in general – elementary and high school students should have a greater range of options based on what they see as important. People learn more quickly and more easily when they are engaged in the subject matter, so forcing kids to study subjects they don’t care about is often counterproductive, while letting them adapt the curriculum to their own interests fosters a love of learning as well as improving the child’s self-image by allowing them to excel.
A single national standard for education, such as Common Core, makes no sense and fails to take into account human nature and the way in which children learn. In addition, it results in endless bickering over what should and should not be taught, a wholly unnecessary waste of resources that would have no reason to exist in a free market. Letting parents and students choose the type of schooling they want will result in their becoming more invested in their educational outcomes, as well as maximizing individual satisfaction with their curricula.