Where Facts And Controversy In The News Come Together In Truth

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dumbing Down Our Children’s Education And Everyone’s Future

Schools Are Phasing Out Basic Studies From Writing To Social Studies And History by Jack Swint
“The benefits of gripping and moving a pen or pencil reach beyond communication. Emerging research shows that handwriting increases brain activity, hones fine motor skills, and can predict a child's academic success in ways that keyboarding can't.” Asst Professor Karen Harman James, Indiana University Psychology and Brain Sciences

Wikipedia defines ‘Dumbing Down’ as…“a term of criticism or disapproval for a perceived trend to lower the intellectual content of literature, education and other aspects of culture. In this case, it is a decline in creativity and innovation; a degradation of artistic, cultural and intellectual standards.” Or in simple terms, this is what will happen to our children when schools quit teaching basic education skills like writing, social studies and history.

Teaching Handwriting Skills Is Fading Fast

Has teaching handwriting really exited the classroom? The Associated Press reported that, yes, cursive writing is being replaced by typing. More than 40 states are following the new “Common Core State Standards” which left out the teaching of cursive handwriting. Are we quickly forgetting how the benefit of gripping and moving a pen or pencil far reaches beyond communication?

Emerging research now shows that handwriting increases brain activity, hones fine motor skills, and can predict a child's academic success in ways that keyboarding can't. “For children, handwriting is extremely important. Not how well they do it, but that they do it and practice it,” said Karin Harman James, an assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University. “Typing does not do the same thing.”

Handwriting can change how children learn and their brains develop. IU researchers used neuroimaging scans to measure brain activation in preliterate preschool children who were shown letters. One group of children then practiced printing letters; the other children practiced seeing and saying the letters. After four weeks of training, the kids who practiced writing showed brain activation similar to an adult's. The printing practice also improved letter recognition, which is the No. 1 predictor of reading ability at age 5.

In WV, Jane Roberts, assistant superintendent for elementary educations largest school system, stated in a 2009 news media interview that cursive writing is still instructed, but only in the 3rd grade. “It doesn't get quite the emphasis it did years ago, primarily because of all the technology skills we now teach.” Hours formerly spent practicing the loops and curves of cursive writing in what used to be called “penmanship” classes have given way to developing technology skills perceived more necessary for the 21st century.

Researchers who tested second, fourth and sixth-graders found that children compose essays more prolifically and faster when using a pen rather than a keyboard. In addition, fourth and sixth graders wrote more complete sentences when they used a pen according to the study led by Virginia Berninger, a University of Washington professor of educational psychology who studies normal writing development and writing disabilities. Her research has also shown that forming letters by hand may engage our thinking brains differently than pressing down on a key.

Cheryl Jeffers, a professor at Marshall University's College of Education and Human Services says that text messaging, e-mail, and word processing have replaced handwriting outside the classroom. She worries they'll replace it entirely before long. “I am not sure students have a sense of any reason why they should vest their time and effort in writing a message out manually when it can be sent electronically in seconds.” Perry Klein, a professor of literacy education at the University of Western Ontario, said a child’s ability to compose depends on whether they can form letters clearly and accurately. 

“If students can form letters fluently, then that frees up their attention to focus on the content and language of what they’re writing.” And, “The important thing is that for kids to learn printing and cursive accurately and fluently, and if they have that, then they’ll be able to do written composition in a whole variety of situations.”

Are children still interested in learning and practicing cursive writing skills? We found at least 220,000 that do. According to Cindy Firestone, Marketing Coordinator with Columbus Ohio based Zaner-Bloser Inc, “Our most recent National Handwriting Contest for the 2010-2011 school year, received over 220,000 student entries from around the country. That’s 20,000 more than the previous year.”  Zaner-Bloser is the premier publishers of research-based reading, writing, spelling, vocabulary, and handwriting programs. They have sponsored this writing skills contest for the past twenty years.

Public and private schools hold their own handwriting contests first, and than enter the winning student for each grade level to the National Handwriting Contest. Judges select one student from each grade level ranging from first to eighth grade to represent the finest penmanship from across the country. The contest entries are judged according to the Zaner-Bloser Keys to Legibility for Size, Shape, Spacing and Slant.

“Writing skills are still a necessary part of each child’s education and for their future.” says Firestone. Schools across the country don’t have one computer for each student. “Kids are sitting at their school desks with pencils or pens, not computers… There are computers in school labs, but not for each student to use at the same time.”  She also said that without handwriting skills now and in the future, “people will go back to signing their name with an X”

It’s Not Just Writing Skills That Are Being Phased Out Of Schools

Besides cursive writing skills being phased out, some school systems across the US have already started cutting out Social Studies from their curriculum. Stating that it is an add-on, rather than essential need to developing a well-rounded citizen prepared for life and work in the 21st century.

Since the implementation of “No Child Left Behind,” (NCLB) the amount of time spent teaching social studies has steadily declined, most notably in elementary schools. According to a 2007 statement from the National Council for Social Studies who blame the erosion of the importance of social studies in large, as a direct consequence of the implementation of No Child Left Behind. (NCLB)
The council also believes the decreasing role of social studies in school will cause students to place less value on the subject and its important concepts such as democracy, rights, voting, leadership and government. There is even an effort in some public school systems across the country to phase out teaching US History earlier than the civil war, and teaching on the civil war only because of the slavery issue.
Ignorance of United States history and the functioning of the our government has apparently become more acceptable in schools. Find that statement hard to believe??

Recently, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam showed that among other academic weaknesses, “Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights.” And “only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches.”
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who heads a group that promotes civics education, declared “Today's NAEP results confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education.”
 In Closing

As a society, we are becoming lazier as each day passes us by. We depend more and more on some form of computers and web service to do our thinking and talking for us through e-mail and or texting. People’s social skills have become embedded in Facebook accounts and personal relationships begin on internet dating services and end with an impersonal text message.

Today, most everyone above the 6th grade has their own laptops up and running, typing notes down quickly and then returning to their game of Scrabble on Facebook against the person sitting right behind them in class. Yes, it’s the wave of the future, but, are we also going to wave goodbye to who we are, were we come from and how we got here.

End Of Story....

Jack Swint - Publisher
WV News 2011
(304) 982-7024


Brian Given said...

I think that students in all grades should do crusive handwriting in school instead of doing typing. It will develop brian activity more then typing does.

Dani said...

In my opinion our children need these tools they are our future! As our future the children should know our past. Learn for our mistakes. I remember being in school and doing current events, yet my younger brothers and sisters have NEVER done even one. As far as penmanship how are our children going to know how to sign thier name? I agree computers are our future but that does not mean for us to lose our past. Social skills are in a major decline! My younger sister is 18 and can not interact with someone she does not know in person, how will she ever get a job?

KateGladstone said...

Brian writes as if cursive and typewriting were the only two ways of writing.

Handwriting matters ... But does cursive matter?
Research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations appear below.)

Often, cursive programs and teachers strongly discourage such practices. Students learning cursive are taught to join all letters, and to use different shapes for cursive versus printed letters. (These requirements do not align with the research findings above.)

When following the rules doesn't work as well as breaking them, it’s time to re-write and upgrade the rules. The discontinuance of cursive offers a great opportunity to teach some better-functioning form of handwriting that is actually closer to what the fastest, clearest handwriters do anyway. (There are indeed textbooks and curricula teaching handwriting this way. Cursive and printing are not the only choices.)

Reading cursive still matters — this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.

(In other words, we could simply teach kids to _read_ old-fashioned handwriting and save the year-and-a-half that are expected to be enough for teaching them to _write_ that way too ... not to mention the actually longer time it takes to teach someone to perform such writing _well_.)

Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don't take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)


/1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub.
1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf


/2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer.
1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

NOTE: there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way — http://www.BFHhandwriting.com - http://www.handwritingsuccess.com - http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com ... With choices like these, how can you say that it has to be cursive if it isn't typewriting?

Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone
Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
and the World Handwriting Contest

KateGladstone said...

If she "cannot interact with someone she does not know in person," then how does she manage on the computer?

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