Sign-y Die: Awaiting the annual failure of the cursive bill 1

Winter months at the statehouse are a slog. It’s cold and gray. The average amount of daylight in an Indiana January is 5.3 hours, so you can easily arrive at the statehouse before the sun rises and leave after it sinks below the horizon. There’s an endless string of committee hearings, and the true excitement of floor debates and negotiations only seem to come around on deadline days.

So few things bring joy to this laborious process.

But one of those things is the annual death of Senator Jean Leising’s bill to mandate cursive writing in Indiana schools. Now that the Indiana Senate has passed the bill, it’s death is imminent.

This is the fifth year for Sen. Leising’s bill, which is quite possibly the worst legislation that anyone takes seriously at 200 W. Washington.

Here’s the backstory.

There’s basically three levels that go toward what your kids learn in school. First, the state legislature lists the things that have to be taught in our schools. It’s a fairly short list that you can read here, but has things like English, math, science, citizenship, and more. Second, the General Assembly delegates the task of writing standards to the State Board of Education. These specifically lay out what a child should know in what grade.

Indiana's current handwriting standards, courtesy of State Impact.

Indiana’s current handwriting standards, courtesy of State Impact.

Finally, there is the local school corporation, which decides on curriculum and textbooks. Since 2011, Indiana has allowed the decision on cursive to be made at this level — the level closest to the students and parents. Sen. Leising wants to move it all the way back up to Level 1.

The bill dies every year in the House of Representatives, because the folks over there realize the state ought not dictate that instruction to local school districts. Then there’s also the fact that this is no longer 1789.

Script writing is an anachronism in 2016, when most of us have traded our cursive for cursors. In 2006, only 15 percent of students who took the SAT wrote in cursive. And that was 10 years ago, when you still had to hit the 7 key four times to type an “s” on your phone!

Sen. Leising’s original reason for drafting the bill was that if we stop teaching cursive, our children won’t be able to read the founding documents like the Constitution.

I’m going to start the clock. Go ahead and try to find a cursive copy of the Constitution. See how long it takes you. Google takes you to the National Archives and a bunch of other places that have the document typed out. And searchable! Do you think James Madison could hit CTRL+F to jump to the advice and consent clause?

You don’t lose a connection to the past just because writing styles change. Thank God Paul wrote the Epistles in English cursive, or they wouldn’t be around today!

And what about the signatures? My goodness, if we stop teaching cursive, how will Indiana kids who grow up to be professional athletes sign memorabilia?

Since the early days, the pro-cursive side’s argument has matured, thanks in large part to Zaner-Bloser. Zaner-Bloser is a company out of Ohio that publishes cursive textbooks for grade schoolers. They are at nearly every committee hearing in every state touting studies that say children who don’t learn cursive don’t use all of their brain.

I’m not joking. There are studies — one by an IU prof — that say children may not learn correctly if they aren’t connecting letters across the page.

That’s probably what made China a Communist country! Their failure to connect characters in their language has corrupted young minds.

As the cursive supporters have gathered more evidence, though, support in the General Assembly seems to be dropping. In 2012, the first year of Sen. Leising’s bill, it passed the Senate 45-5. This year, it was 30-18. The House has never taken a vote.

I actually don’t have a problem with cursive writing. Really. If a local school district wants to teach it, that’s fine. My kid’s school teaches it, and my kids love it. But the state was correct in delegating the job of writing standards and forming curriculum; it’s just not their area of expertise. If a school decides it would be better served teaching a few extra hours of science or math instead of looping letters, they should have that ability.

A major problem with policy is the desire to stick to the ways of the past. Too often, the government sits on the porch reminiscing about the good old days while the world marches on. When things go wrong, we struggle just to keep up.

To me, a cursive mandate just represents the backwards-looking, review-mirror perspective that too many elected officials see the world through.

That’s why, during the dog days of January, I always look forward to sign-y die.


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