Yesterday, the Philadelphia City Council had the School Reform Commission in to hold budget hearings. However, instead of figuring out to raise the millions the school district needs to operate next year at something approaching a minimal level, City Councillors fixated on whether or not cursive was being taught in school. I kid you not.
First off, let's think about why city council is getting into the weeds on the elementary education. They're doing it because, um, I'm thinking. Quite frankly, I have no idea. When board members at my school join the board, they get very firm training about what they should and should not do. One of the things they should not do is get involved in curricular decisions. Money decisions are fair game. Things like whether or not every classroom gets a smartboard or should we shift to 1:1 laptops are board level decisions, they require funding commitments and long term financial planning. Which math curriculum we use is not a board level decision. So why is city council discussing cursive? Why knows?
More alarming, however, were the justifications city council members used for cursive. (You can read them here) I'm the last person to get on the technofuturist bandwagon, but why exactly do I need to be able to sign my name? I already use virtual signatures for many transactions. Pretty soon biometric scanning is going to make signatures obsolete. So why do kids need to learn cursive? There are some studies that show some benefits to cursive, but they are hardly rigorous. (In one frequently cited study, students in 2nd 4th, and 6th grade wrote more by hand than on a keyboard. I have been unable to determine whether students primarily wrote by hand or on a keyboard prior to the test or even find the original article, I did find something about handwriting and dyslexic students that might be where this idea came from). And couldn't the money that's used to teach cursive be used for things like laptops, or libraries, or, I don't know, a nurse in every school?
Another pet topic was civics because of low turnout in the mayoral primary last week. You want to increase voter turnout? How about doing things that make it easier to vote, like extended hours, easy mail-in voting, same day registration, electronic balloting, etc. But you know what high turn out might mean? A city council without most of these folks concerned about cursive on it.