Several states add handwriting, cursive classes to Common Core educational standards

COLUMBUS, Ohio - In years gone by, penmanship helped distinguish the literate from the illiterate. But in the digital age, people are increasingly communicating by computer and smartphone, with no handwritten signature necessary.

When the new Common Core educational standards were crafted, cursive classes were dropped. State leaders cited a host of reasons, including an increasing need for children to master computer keyboarding.

But at least seven of the 45 states that adopted the standards are fighting to restore handwriting classes.

California, Georgia and Massachusetts, have added a cursive requirement to the national standards, while most others, such as Indiana, Illinois and Hawaii have left it as optional for school districts. Some states, like Utah, are still studying the issue.

Experts say manuscript, or printing, may be sufficient when it comes to handwriting in the future.

However, cursive advocates cite recent brain science that indicates the fluid motion employed when writing script enhances hand-eye coordination and develops fine motor skills, in turn promoting reading, writing and cognition skills.

Longhand is also a symbol of personality, even more so in an era of uniform emails and texting, they say.

"I think it's part of your identity and part of your self-esteem," said Eldra Avery, who teaches language and composition at San Luis Obispo High School. "There's something really special and personal about a cursive letter."

Avery also has a practical reason for pushing cursive -- speed. She makes her 11th grade students relearn longhand simply so they'll be able to complete their advancement placement exams. Most students print.

"They have to write three essays in two hours. They need that speed," she said. "Most of them learned cursive in second grade and forgot about it. Their penmanship is deplorable."

For many elementary school teachers, having children spend hours copying flowing letters just isn't practical in an era of high-stakes standardized testing.

Third-graders may get 15 minutes of cursive practice a couple times a week, and after the fourth grade, it often falls off completely because teachers don't require assignments to be written in cursive. When children write by hand, many choose to print because they've practiced it more.

Dustin Ellis, fourth-grade teacher at Big Springs Elementary School in Simi Valley, said he assigns a cursive practice packet as homework, but if he had his druthers, he'd limit cursive instruction to learning to read it, instead of writing it. Out of his 32 students, just three write in cursive, he noted.

"Students can be just as successful with printing," he said. "When a kid can text 60 words a minute, that means we're heading in a different direction. Cursive is becoming less and less important."

It also depends on the teacher. Many younger teachers aren't prepared to teach cursive or manuscript, said Kathleen S. Wright, national handwriting product manager for Zaner-Bloser Publishing, which develops instructional tools.

To remedy that, the company has developed a computer program that shows kids how to form letters.

At St. Mark's Lutheran School in Hacienda Heights, cursive remains a core subject. Students are required to write in cursive through middle school so they become fluent at it, as well as work on computers, but increasingly transfer students arrive without longhand skills, said Linda Merchant, director of curriculum and instruction. They're given a book to study and practice at home.

"We're pretty committed to keeping it," Merchant said. "There's always going to be situations when you're going to have to present your own writing."

For those who have already forgotten the art of cursive writing, fear not -- here's a video below to help refresh your memory (mobile users: http://bit.ly/1j6CIPz):

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