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Cursive is pretty, but other programs provide more valuable skills

Cady McGovernOn Oct. 8, the State Board of Education held a public hearing about proposed new education requirements. Though no one at the meeting spoke about it, one of the proposals is a requirement that elementary students learn cursive writing.

The cursive requirement is a nice thought, but as a taxpayer investing in a future workforce, I’d like to see a requirement that packs a little more punch in terms of benefiting students.

Don’t get me wrong; I think legible handwriting is a valuable skill, and studies have shown cursive provides more benefits than just being able to write a pretty note. But when it comes to a required curriculum in elementary schools, I’d much rather see expanded, specific music requirements than a cursive writing requirement.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I participated in music education from kindergarten through 12th grade and was recently accepted into the Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale. Returning to music after what’s essentially been a 14-year hiatus has reminded me just how much music education has to offer beyond music, especially lessons that are invaluable in the workplace.

Music performed in a group demonstrates the importance of accuracy, attention to detail, ability to follow direction, cooperation and teamwork.

Each member of a musical ensemble is responsible for performing the music exactly as it’s written. If even one person hits the wrong note, misreads the value of a note or rest, or performs at the wrong tempo, that can throw off the entire group and make the music sound terrible. On the same note, everyone in a business is responsible for doing his own work accurately and thoroughly so the company can run smoothly.

But people read pieces of music interpretively, so every group will perform a piece slightly differently. Everyone in an ensemble must be able and willing to follow the director’s instructions for how to perform a piece, and to either blend in with or stand out from the rest of the group, depending on what the director asks for. Employees must not only do what’s expected of them, but also do it in the way their supervisors ask. In a well-run business, the boss has a vision for what the company can achieve and a plan for how to reach that vision, and each employee plays a part.

It’s a valuable exercise in leaving one’s ego at the door. Every person in a musical ensemble may want to let his talents shine, but sometimes part of that is backing off to let a soloist or another section take the spotlight. In the workplace, each of us has our own exceptional talents, but allowing the best person for a job to step up and do that job benefits everyone.

Music is also a vigorous exercise in multitasking. A singer must read not only the musical notes in a piece, but also the words, which are sometimes in another language and must be pronounced correctly by everyone in order to sound good. Someone playing an instrument must read the music and translate the notes into the proper hand, finger and mouth positions to produce the desired sounds. And the entire time, everyone must watch the director for cues that will provide a cohesive, polished delivery of the music’s interpretation.

Jobs that don’t require at least some multitasking are few and far between nowadays. And even a worker who makes a single type of widget all day long on an assembly line needs to be aware of his surroundings and the condition of his equipment in order to avoid injury.

Music provides an opportunity to appreciate a job well done, even if the final product is fleeting and intangible. While a paycheck is, of course, an excellent reward for a job well done, knowing the actual work one does or product one produces is of high quality provides a sense of satisfaction on top of that financial boon.

And, of course, music education benefits students in ways that don’t translate directly to the workplace. It provides an alternative entry point to the fields of math and science as students learn to interpret note and rest values and begin to understand how harmony and resonance work on a physical level.

Playing an instrument helps teach hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills essential for writing, typing and other activities. Reading musical notes provides practice in spatial relations. And learning and performing music provides a foundation for creativity.

I understand the desire to teach children to write in beautiful script, and I think teaching children to write legibly is essential. But I don’t think it’s the most productive use of a teacher’s time. If we’re going to add requirements to the elementary education curriculum, let’s get the biggest bang for our buck and push for more music.

Cady McGovern is editor of the Focus section at Idaho Business Review.

About Cady McGovern

3 comments

  1. Get real! “Cursive” is *only one form* of script writing, and far from the best of them. Other forms, like Italic, are far more legible, easier to learn, quicker to teach, and frankly more beautiful. Cursive all too readily degenerates into that illegible scribble for which doctors are notorious — which causes thousands of deaths every year from “medical error”. Just ask any pharmacist. If only for the lives it’s cost, Cursive deserves to die!

  2. Brain science teaches us that learning cursive is very isvery beneficial to brain development. It helps develop those synapsis between the left and right sides which contributes to reasoning ability and creative thinking. Don’t get me wrong….I am a strong advocate for music as well. All my children have been taught piano and studies show that children with a music background tend to do better in math and science. But is I had to chose between music and cursive, I’d go with the cursive. I’m glad that my kids charter school understands the value of it and still teach it.

  3. Don’t get me wrong; I love music and agree with all the benefits mentioned. However, it is unbelievable and shocking to suggest it is more important than learning cursive. I am a businessman in my 40’s, and I will not hire someone who can’t read cursive. This notion of taking cursive out of the schools is ridiculous and demonstrates how naive our educators and politicians are regarding the business world. They obviously haven’t been in a board meeting where the CEO handed them a note in cursive. Deeds, journals, and all forms of historical documents are in cursive. Yes, I have a laptop, Ipad, Iphone and use them for the majority of my communication needs. However, I read cursive all the time. When Post-It notes, thank you cards, paper, and pens no longer exist, I will reconsider my position and hiring requirements. I hope the State Board of Education chooses wisely. With this rationale, no wonder we are falling behind.