Monday, January 30, 2012

Rather Horse-Riding than Horse....

Last night I spent three hours watching British-produced mysteries on PBS. I enjoy trying to solve their intricate plotting. How can England can turnout quality drama like this, while America creates amateurish, soft-porn, loaded with adolescent humor?

Now there’s a mystery I can’t solve.

If we have succumbed to the “dumbing-down” of America, I don’t think TV is the origin; I just think it’s a symptom.

For the root cause, I look to our educational system. Back in 2008, I wrote a series of columns on the lack of writing ability in many of our high school graduates. And I don’t mean their lack of verbal brilliance—although that is a problem.

No, I mean they can’t write! They print—everything! I learned to print in the first and second grade. I learned to write—what today’s educators call “cursive”—in subsequent grades.

But many, if not most of today’s public high school graduates can neither read cursive writing, nor can they write in longhand themselves. Some cannot sign their name. Really—they print their signature!

In writing those columns in 2008, I interviewed several educators at both the college and grammar school level. There were several reasons why people in their teens and even in their twenties were unskilled at reading cursive documents—hand-held printing devices prime among them. (And isn’t it ironic we call a lot of those, “smart phones.”)

But again, those devices, like TV, are more symptomatic of the problem, rather than a reason why little Johnny and Janey can’t read a hand-written letter, let alone write one.

Look, I’ve used a computer for 25 years. I have texted, e-mailed, surfed the Web… But Lord knows, I can also read a hand-written note. So what’s changed?

Those educators that I mentioned I interviewed? Well, one question got two different answers, depending on who was being asked. Cursive handwriting was not taught in any of the public schools. But all Catholic grammar schools continue to teach the skill of handwriting.

And now, Catholic schools are closing everywhere.

I don’t have all the answers, but it seems to me that public schools have shown no inclination to improve their teaching methods—at least if the results they’ve presented over the last generation are any indication.

One middle-aged administrative executive I talked to about this didn’t see the problem as critical. “It’s (cursive writing and reading) an unnecessary skill today—like horseback riding,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “Today’s educators don’t waste their time teaching our grammar school students how to ride a horse, so why should they teach cursive writing?”

They may not be teaching horseback riding, but they seem to be wasting their students’ time with a lot of other solid material associated with the horse.

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