The Book of Mormon has, as its primary mission, the convincing of people today that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. First and foremost, it is a testament of Christ as the Savior. It has a secondary mission of warning us about dangers small and great that would exist in our time. In many ways, a dedicated student of the Book of Mormon sees many trends in the modern world that parallel mistakes and failures of the ancient peoples that wrote the book. One interesting parallel to which we can connect is the recent debate about teaching Common Core standards in public schools and the abandoning of teaching cursive writing.
Common Core standards are an attempt to nationalize education. Proponents assert that standardization is necessary to provide educational equity so a high school diploma in the Mississippi Delta is as rigorous and valid as one issued in Massachusetts. Critics contend that Common Core interferes with local control of schools by localities. The conflict occurs because the limited amount of time students spend in the classroom necessarily become directed toward meeting objectives set by the federal government. Meeting standards means getting funds. Reading and math take priority over the arts, physical education, and other electives. Reading great literature is sacrificed for reading informational texts. Creativity and critical thinking is less important than skills that can be measured precisely. One of the skills that used to be a priority that districts are having to abandon is the teaching of cursive writing.
In the Internet age where everyone types or composes text on a keyboard of some kind, writing by hand is becoming less common. So what’s the problem with that you might ask? If student’s don’t practice writing in cursive, they not only don’t develop the fine motor skills to write by hand, they also don’t learn to read cursive writing. This has the potential to disconnect students from any past knowledge that has not yet been digitized. English written in cursive might as well be a foreign language to them. When you consider that most students can’t read an analog clock today because of digital ones, just think what would be lost if they could not read cursive handwritten documents!
A similar thing has happened with Chinese and Japanese young people today. The alphabet for those languages contain many hundreds of characters, not merely 26 like ours. The use of digital devices has led them to transliterate their language to adapt to the modern keyboard devices. (A phone with a 2,000-key keyboard definitely wouldn’t fit in your purse or pocket!) The UK Telegraph reported in 2012 that nearly two-thirds of Japanese can’t read or write Kanji anymore because of reliance on digital devices.
The inability to read Kanji for the Japanese has the potential to cut modern people off from written texts that might have historical or personal importance. Disconnecting them with the concepts associated with this set of ideograms disconnects them from the cultural and etymological origins of their language. Losing that connection costs them the philosophical and aesthetic connections that richly contribute to their culture. Likewise, American students who fail to learn to read cursive writing could end up disconnected from their own past. For example, the Constitution is written in cursive. Any researcher of genealogical records encounters cursive writing on scanned documents. Even important family documents that might be handed down could end up being as indecipherable as “Greek” to our children.
One of the scary things about not being able to read cursive is that it places access to historical texts in the hands of “experts” or the government who will decide what old texts pass on to the future. It entrusts a few “gatekeepers” with the power to preserve history and determine what will fade into the forgotten past.
Where does the Book of Mormon come into this debate? It recounts the story of groups of refugees who were guided by God from Jerusalem to the Americas around 600 B.C. The primary group consisted of the family of Lehi. The descendants of Lehi preserved essential cultural and religious traditions among them because they had brought a written religious record with them. They preserved their language and culture because their prophets taught their children how to read these records.
About 300 years after this group had come to the New World, they encountered a second group that had come from Jerusalem also. This group came with one of the sons of King Zedekiah, named Mulek. In the three centuries since they had come to the Americas, this group (the Mulekites) was assimilated by the indigenous people. They lost their language and traditions, including their religion. When they encountered Lehi’s posterity after three centuries, King Mosiah arranged to teach them how to speak the language of the Nephites. That process reconnected them to their history as children of Israel.
One of the ancillary lessons to be taken from the Book of Mormon then, is that preserving language and culture is important to keeping a connection to the past and to preserving religious faith in a people. If we let our children grow up without learning to read culture, how might they be able to treasure the handwritten heirlooms of their heritage? How will they read the family Bible’s inscriptions? How will they read and treasure the letter of a great-great-great grandmother who crossed the plains pulling a handcart or of their ancestor who fought and died in the Civil War?
The Book of Mormon speaks to the importance of maintaining our language and culture, which it turn, helps us make that critical connect ion that binds the hearts of the children their fathers and the fathers to their children (see Malachi 4:6). The Lord warned us through Malachi’s words that, should we lose that connection, the earth would be smitten with a curse. Perhaps that curse is the loss of family and cultural connections that bind us together across the generations.
Just maybe, keeping the teaching of cursive writing is something we ought to reconsider and make room for in the scholastic careers of our children.