Rep. Andrew Brenner is not known for his ability to throw a fastball, but he nevertheless seems to be using another pitch this political season.
A cursive ball.
Yes, the anti-public education chair of the Ohio House Education Committee sponsored a bill that would encourage the teaching of cursive writing in the state’s public schools. According to one Cleveland TV outlet, the legislation is designed to “create a curriculum to teach cursive to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.”
But with Brenner, there is never anything new under the sun, and his cursive curriculum idea goes back at least three years. Knowing this, if his hero Ronald Reagan were still around to observe his predictable antics, the Gipper might invoke his favorite line and just say, there you go again.
In a classic April 2015 piece, State Can Do Without Bills on Guns, Cursive, published in the Columbus Dispatch, one Brenner observer made this succinct analysis of the chairman’s love for weaponry, deregulation, promoting cursive writing, and by contrast, his lack of providing thoughtful education policy and coherent legislative ideas:
State Rep. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, must be the new intellectual standard-bearer for the Ohio Republican Party. The earnest wunderkind co-sponsored two bills in the same week that, on one hand, would nullify all required certification and training for carrying concealed firearms and, on the other, mandate the teaching of cursive for elementary-aged students through the fifth grade (Dispatch articles, April 8).
So let’s see: If both bills pass, we’re assured, about 20 years from now, of being able to decipher coroners’ signatures on the death certificates of those killed by guns.
Or, wait, what about this: Family members of victims killed by “accidental gunfire” will find solace in the beautifully scripted notes of condolence perpetrators will write.
Abandon all common sense with guns but mandate (that is, compel by imprimatur of the state) the teaching of cursive handwriting?
The charter school cheerleader and fervent ECOT backer seem to have become more assertive lately in offering his directives for what he feels should be needed education policy in the form of curricular offerings, and throwing his cursive ball for others to hit into the House Gallery’s seats is predictable behavior. But in terms of ECOT Andy, are his constituents somehow reminded of the classic Peggy Lee song goes, Is That All There Is?
Here’s the question. Is cursive handwriting the extent of the thinking for the House Education Committee’s Chair?
Brenner’s website informs constituents that he is pursuing a “Masters of Education (M.Ed.) in Teaching and Learning with an emphasis in Leadership” from Liberty University, which some refer to as Jerry Falwell U, after its founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., father of the current president, Jerry Falwell Jr.
As we again examine that sentence on Brenner’s website, we can see that it contains three keywords – teaching, learning, and leadership. Perhaps the education committee chair as a would-be future educator has not yet found the opportunity to spend much time in a classroom and be involved in the teaching and learning process. We await that possibility.
But right now, it’s the emphasis on leadership or the lack thereof, that will mark Brenner’s abysmal record as a legislator and presumed policymaker. A glance at the current state of the nation might provide some clues about what aspects of student learning are in need of enhancement. In order to help future generations heal our fractured society and provide continuity for the Republic, enlightened political leadership is necessary to advance sound educational policy, not narrow ideological goals.
Hint: Cursive writing will not be ranked very high as a pressing need by educators, those who know a lot more about children and how they learn than politicians studying at Jerry Falwell U and other places remote from the intersection of teaching and learning.
No, in a time of great societal change and upheaval, new and improved cursive writing programs won’t make that list of top student learning needs. Instead, here are a few suggestions for Brenner and his followers to consider as we prepare young people in becoming the trustees of this society – skilled individuals who are critical thinkers, fluent in civic affairs and issues, and ethical citizens and caring adults.
• Research Tools, Critical Thinking, and Other Higher Order Thinking Skills. In an age where millions of adults were fooled and thus manipulated by fake stories planted by Russian bots on Facebook and other social media platforms, there is a need for young people to be fully literate. Today, literacy encompasses the skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing, along with the ability to evaluate what we read and view in different media. Among many educators, library and media specialists are key players in helping students assess literature and the deluge of information we receive. If anything, the 2016 election was a wake-up call for the need to instruct students in media literacy and research skills and not so much cursive writing ability.
• Civic Learning and Citizenship. According to the National Council for the Social Studies, only 17% of students surveyed said they had a civics class in their school experience. Courses that deal with government and problems of democracy are important in preparing young people for adult life, along with the more visible courses in American and World History. The sad fact of life in this country is that civic learning courses have disappeared from many schools, in part due to pressure to insert test prep classes and drill and kill exercises intended to address state testing requirements and increased accountability measures which are backed by people like Brenner. As compared to other countries, our low voter participation levels might be one symptom of the lack of civic learning, and the carryover effect is a lack of civic engagement as evidenced by voter turnout.
• Ethical and Caring Behavior. As an individual who has been involved in multiple bankruptcies, hundreds of lawsuits, bullying behavior, and incessant lying about some of the simplest things that can be easily fact-checked at a number of websites, the current president is not a role model for ethical behavior, particularly for young people. In light of an increase in bullying around the country among school-aged youth, many schools have adopted character education programs to deal with a rising national tide of incivility. In such programs, students learn that caring for others, along with such other virtues as trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, and citizenship are the essential parts of character development. Among many civic organizations, the Josephson Institute of Ethics and its Character Counts Program are proven strategies that assist educators with positive youth development.
Although these three areas are quite important for schools in their mission to produce skilled, caring, and ethical citizens, they represent only a small portion of the work that needs to part of school programming. Or would ECOT Andy think that such programs as these might be, um, socialist in nature?
Which gets us back to Brenner’s cursive ball.
If there are policymakers that are genuinely concerned about the increasing rise of bullying in this country, of the appalling lack of civic knowledge among the voting-age population, and of the level of caring about others – particularly the most vulnerable among us, the sick, poor, and refugee – they can become allies and join with educators who are dealing with these needs. Unfortunately, educators also must first find time to address other school requirements, including teaching students how to take tests and dedicating weeks every year of instructional time that comes with a test prep environment.
Hint: In balancing mandates with other pressing societal needs, something’s gotta give.
So we recognize Andrew Brenner’s agenda to improve handwriting, and we are also aware of his advocacy for the Second Amendment. But educators and others would also like to know where he stands on the larger issues of civic understanding, citizen involvement in the democratic process, critical thinking, and character formation skills desperately needed by citizens in this increasingly fragmented country.
In these very serious times, where more than ever a skilled, thinking, ethical. and caring citizenry is needed, we await any handwritten statement by Andrew Brenner on the subject.
POSTSCRIPT: One more question for ECOT Andy Brenner. Did ECOT teach cursive writing to its many real and imagined students? If so, how was cursive writing taught and penmanship realized in an online environment?