Friday, September 20, 2013

What Money Says

Yesterday, before my daughter asked for a pass to the Health Room so she could go home (sick with a nasty cold) she endured a lecture from the 7th grade GT Social Studies teacher about poor handwriting. Apparently the teacher is "too old to be trying to read chicken scratches",and she will be taking off points for poor handwriting. The lecture was addressed to the entire class, but Margo thinks she has already had some points taken off.

There's just one problem here. With the exception of Kindergarten, where letter formation was taught, the students at Talbott Springs received no handwriting instruction. Nada, zilch, as they say. And don't get me started on not teaching cursive. That's another story altogether.

And yet, in my travels as an itinerant music teacher in the County, I have seen some schools using the Handwriting Without Tears method. And so I am beginning to wonder.

Are some elementary schools teaching handwriting? And, if so, are they the schools for whom aqequate tests scores are not an issue? I would love to see the data on this. My gut feeling is that schools in less affluent areas, where fear of doing badly on the MSA's is a driving force, don't get to devote time to handwriting instruction. It's all about the test for them.

Let me state again--I don't know this for a fact. But if handwriting instruction is inconsistent throughout the county, and if this is the reason, then the result will be that clear, legible handwriting will be a luxury that only the rich can afford. If we value only what can be tested, then handwriting is yet another fatality on the road.

As a child I had poor fine motor skills, and terrible handwriting. I hated the fact that I could receive an A on an assignment accompanied by a C for a handwriting grade. I'm thrilled they don't give handwriting grades anymore. But it seems that Margo's teacher is now dealing with a significant number of chicken scratchers, and she thinks that using a grade is the appropriate response.

Is it? If the county schools have not taught or valued handwriting throughout their childhoods, then isn't "good handwriting" at this point the result purely of innate ability? The rest can't simply be bad people or poor students. They are in need of handwriting guidance, if you will, not punishment.

I think that, as one travels around the schools in our county, one would see two things. First of all, the incredible dedication in every school towards the student population they teach. But secondly, and more worrisome to me today, is that having an affluent student population affords one the time and freedom of choice to do many things that others cannot.

Teachers, administrators, and parents all want what is best for the children. This is just another example of how placing power in highstakes testing fails to address the true needs of our students.

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