For decades, students learned cursive writing in second grade and were expected to write that way for years to come. In the era of computers, however, those loops and swirls are rapidly disappearing as more and more people abandon them for typing or even printing.
Now the state of Ohio is making news because it will no longer require that children be taught cursive writing. The Common Core State Standards for English, which Ohio recently adopted, will take effect in 2014-15. Although the Common Core doesn’t mandate the teaching of cursive writing, it also doesn’t prevent it. Individual school districts can still choose to include cursive writing in the curriculum.
Michele Massa, the Elementary Curriculum Leader for Kettering City Schools, says the district has not yet decided if or how it might alter writing instruction. “At this point, cursive writing continues to be taught at the second-grade level,” she said.
Massa said the K-5 Language Arts Adoption Committee began studying the current language arts research and both district and classroom needs last year. “Any changes will be handled through this committee and must be approved by two other district committees, whose membership includes parent reps and the Board,” she said. “We’ll look very carefully at all the aspects of including cursive in the curriculum before making a recommendation. We strive to do what’s best for the students.”
Common Core stresses use of ‘digital tools’
Acknowledging the growth of technology, the Common Core specifically calls for elementary students to “use digital tools as they compose, revise and publish their written work” and to exhibit increasingly fluent keyboarding skills.
Although this is a big change from conventional education, Fairmont sophomore Heath Patterson thinks change is sometimes a good thing. “I’ve always thought that cursive writing was unnecessary,” he said. “The only thing I ever needed it for is to sign documents and checks.”
Massa, however, believes cursive writing is still important. “Personally, I believe that cursive writing is a form of communication that is still used in our country, so students need to be taught how to read it and write it legibly,” she said.
Massa said that when she taught second grade, she made sure her students knew how to write in cursive, but she stressed legibility, not penmanship. “Did their letters have to be perfect? No. Did their slant have to match the model perfectly? Of course not. Few people write that way,” she said. “I don’t believe we should spend our class time on penmanship.”
Fairmont sophomore Mark Pigeon, however, thinks it makes sense to completely abandon cursive writing instruction in elementary schools. “No one uses cursive writing any more. I know from a personal perspective that I haven’t since the third grade,” he said. “I don’t have reason to continue writing in it. It’s a dead subject.”
The idea that cursive writing is dead is an idea that the proponents of the new state standards are counting on. Even though high school students learned cursive when they were in elementary school, many switched back to printing for most in-class assignments. Still more tried to avoid physical writing as much as possible and opted to type much of their school work on the computer.
Some see art and practicality in cursive
For basic communication, the days of handwritten letters have largely faded away, replaced by emails and texting, which are more efficient.
Some people, however, want to retain at least some of the traditional ways of doing things. One of those people is Fairmont English teacher Virginia Becknell, who argues that if cursive writing is removed altogether, the results will be disastrous.
“I think that cursive is a skill that needs to be taught,” she said. “We are in a technologically advanced era, yes, but not teaching students cursive is robbing them of the skill of writing. The skill of expressing themselves is taken away by texting and emails.”
Becknell also takes offense at the notion that cursive writing is dead. “It is not a dead subject,” she said. “I still write in cursive and so do many others. If we follow through with cutting cursive in schools, some students may not be able to write their signatures.”
Although some high school students may not agree with her, studies show that Becknell may be right when she says the elimination of cursive writing instruction could be disastrous.
A study by Johns Hopkins University researchers revealed that the human brain actually changes structure in reaction to physical instruction such as cursive handwriting. The study, reported in Science magazine, also showed that these structural changes led to “almost immediate improvement in fluency” and that practicing cursive writing helps acquired knowledge become more stable.
For Becknell, the issue is less about science and more about art and expression. “I think typing is a valuable subject, but writing skills are just as important,” she said. “Writing cursive is another form of art on paper.”
Massa seems a bit more open to the idea that cursive’s days are numbered. “At some time in the future, cursive may become totally obsolete and therefore will not need to be learned,” she said. “But I don’t believe that time is yet here.”