Some states don't want cursive classes to go by the (key)boards
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Linden Bateman and his pen are fighting to keep cursive writing, or script, in American classrooms.
Penmanship. Handwriting. In years gone by, it helped distinguish the literate from the illiterate.
But now, in the digital age, people are increasingly communicating by computer and smartphone. Handwriting often isn't called for anymore.
Call it a sign of the times. When the new Common Core educational standards were crafted, penmanship classes were dropped.
Cursive Yields To Keyboarding
Now, at least seven of the 45 states that adopted the standards are trying to restore cursive instruction.
Bateman, a 72-year-old state representative from Idaho, is just one supporter of cursive. Cursive, he says, conveys intelligence and grace, engages creativity and builds brain cells.
"Modern research indicates that more areas of the human brain are engaged when children use cursive handwriting than when they keyboard," said Bateman, who handwrites 125 letters each year. "We're not thinking this through. It's beyond belief to me that states have allowed cursive to slip from the standards."
State leaders who developed the Common Core — a set of preferred K–12 course offerings for public schools — omitted cursive for various reasons. In this digital-heavy age, there is an increasing need for children to master computer keyboarding. And there is evidence that even most adults do not use classic cursive in everyday life. Instead, they use some mixture of cursive and print.
"Stop and think for a second about what are the sorts of skills that people are likely to be using in the future," said education expert Morgan Polikoff. "It's much more likely that keyboarding will help students succeed in careers and in school than it is that cursive will."
States that adopted Common Core are allowed to offer courses that were omitted from the list of preferred offerings. But in many schools these days, classroom time is limited and the pressure to perform well on standardized tests is high. In this environment, optional offerings tend to get sidelined in favor of what's required.
Back To Basics Movement
That's why at least seven states — California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Utah — have moved to keep the cursive requirement. Legislation passed in North Carolina and elsewhere couples cursive with memorization of multiplication tables as twin "back to basics" mandates.
Cursive advocates point to recent brain science: Research indicates that the fluid motion employed when writing script enhances hand-eye coordination and develops fine motor skills. This in turn promotes reading, writing and thinking skills.
They further argue that scholars of the future will lose the ability to interpret valuable cultural resources — historical documents, ancestors' letters and journals, handwritten scholarship — if they can't read cursive.
"The Constitution of the United States is written in cursive. Think about that," Bateman said.
All the fuss seems a bit loopy to some members of Generations X, Y and Z. People their age have moved increasingly from handwriting to computers.
The volume of first-class mail at the U.S. Postal Service fell in 2010 to its lowest level in a quarter-century, just as computer use — and the keyboarding it involves — was surging.
Some 95 percent of teens use the Internet. The percentage using smartphones to go online has grown from 23 percent in 2011 to 37 percent today, according to the Pew Research Center. A 2012 Pew report found the volume of text messages among teens rose from 50 a day on average in 2009 to 60 a day on average two years later.
Pew research has also shown that educators don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.
A recent survey of American middle and high school teachers found that 78 percent believed the Internet, social media and cellphones were encouraging their students' creativity and personal expression.
"I Like To Handwrite Everything"
Despite those results, says researcher Kristen Purcell, most teachers "encourage their students to do at least some of their writing by hand."
Teachers gave two main reasons, she said. The first is that most standardized tests are still in paper-and-pencil format. Teachers also believe that having students write by hand helps slow down their thinking, encouraging deeper and fuller thinking while they're writing.
Pew surveys of teens have found many prefer to write on the computer, which they found faster and neater. But many still use handwriting for notes, letters, journals, short stories or music lyrics — as well as for school.
"I find it hard to think creatively when I am typing," a high school boy from the Pacific Northwest told Pew in 2008. "So I like to handwrite everything, then I put it on the computer. I don't know, that is just how I am."
Adults unable to write cursive might think back to the experiences of Jacob Lew. In 2013, President Barack Obama nominated him as treasury secretary. But there was a problem.
Lew's signature looked more like a series of loops than the distinct letters in his name. And as treasury secretary, his signature would be on U.S. dollars.
"Jack assured me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible" in order not to devalue our currency, the president joked at the time.