By Diana Diamond
Can you read cursive? Do you know why democratic values are important?Uploaded: Apr 12, 2022
“I don’t read cursive,” the CVS store clerk said to me when I handed my friend’s somewhat undecipherable shopping list over, asking her what she thought the third item was. She looked at the check-out employee asking, “Sharon, do you read cursive?” “No,” was her answer. “My school didn’t teach it.”
Call me naïve as to what students learn today, but I was absolutely amazed that neither of these two young women could read handwriting – only block letters.
How could learning to read written words have disappeared in our school systems in this country?
That question drove me to the web, where I immediately realized three things: a) teaching cursive writing has been eliminated from school curricula since the early 1980s, b) a lot more of the subjects taught at that time have also gone by the wayside, to an alarming extent, and c) how radically what kids learn today has changed from the fundamentals I was taught years ago.
I saw a site where four pre-teen students were asked about the need for cursive writing. Two of them dismissed it because it was “too hard” and “complicated” to learn – all those curves – and they didn’t want to struggle through it. Two others said it would come in handy, but they still want to use block letters to write.
In general, many classes that were taught in the 1980s no longer exist today: civics, Latin, cursive writing, home economics, shop, Roman numerals, trigonometry, sections of American history, world history, typing, library research and even drivers’ ed -- and more.
Research papers are also no longer in style, unfortunately, I think, because I remember some I did in high school, like a 20-page report on the ugly anti-black discriminatory maneuvers of the Ku Klux Kan, with actions that still are occurring, albeit under the white supremacy banner of today.
Schools still have libraries, but now they are called media centers and have a lot fewer books.
“Life skills” -- like how to write a check or secure a mortgage or how to manage money or even sew on a button – have been eliminated. But kids are now interested in any course that might help them make more money!
My very biggest concern is the disappearance of civics classes. Why? Because civics is all about our democratic form of government. That is where most of us learned about how our government works – the executive, legislative and judicial tripartite arrangement, the role of the House and Senate, elections in our country, voter rights, democratic citizenship, civic engagement, etc. Our nation is at a moment when the chances of losing our democracy is real. And yet, many younger people yawn when that it is mentioned because I don’t think they understand how important democracy is.
American history is also on its way out, as is any student knowledge about our nation’s history. A 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that only an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in U.S. history.
Some of our politicians, don’t have the slightest idea about the ideals and principles our founding fathers used to establishing the birth of our nation and who was involved or why it matters. Not a great way to run a country. It also is very sad when students don’t know how many stars are on our national flag or why.
Teachers are not particularly interested in teaching history, one web site declared, because many of them do not know much history themselves, and also history is not one of the subjects that measures the success of a student, so why even teach it, many of them ask.
All of this, to me, is a rather abysmal portrait of what our kids are not being taught in schools today.
Many will argue students do not need to learn things like typing or Roman numerals – they use their computer or calculator keyboards at early ages and will catch on. They don’t need history because it is a constantly changing topic, with progressives leaning to civil rights issues and conservatives complaining loudly about critical race theory. Everything historical now has different interpretations so why does it matter, some teachers and parents ask.
But I also think the big switch happened in the late 1980s when STEM courses (Science, Tech, Engineering and Mathematics) became almost a mandate for the future curriculum in our schools. For a brief time, there was an effort to include arts and humanities subjects (STEAHM), but that got nowhere.
For me, although many techies and engineers in Silicon Valley will certainly disagree, a preponderance of only STEM courses is not the answer for a functioning society. We must build on our past cultures to move forward into the future.
So we are left today with a questionable and constantly changing curriculum and a somewhat scattered array of subjects our kids are learning.
We need instead to incorporate humanities, psychology, civics, philosophy into our nation as we go forward.
Our students today and what they know are the future of our country tomorrow.