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Jaeden Alvarez practices cursive writing at Cleveland K-6 School, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, in Dayton, Ohio. In years gone by, penmanship helped distinguish the literate from the illiterate. But now, in the digital age, people are increasingly communicating by computer and smartphone. No handwritten signature necessary. Cursive writing is not being taught in many schools as some 45 states have adopted Common Core standards, which have eliminated the teaching of cursive writing. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Should students learn cursive? Some states say yes
First Published Nov 14 2013 10:49 am • Last Updated Nov 14 2013 02:58 pm

Columbus, Ohio • The swirling lines from Linden Bateman’s pen have been conscripted into a national fight to keep cursive writing in American classrooms.

Cursive. Penmanship. Handwriting.

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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. No handwritten signature necessary.

Call it a sign of the times. When the new Common Core educational standards were crafted, penmanship classes were dropped. But at least seven of the 45 states that adopted the standards are fighting to restore the cursive instruction.

THE ARGUMENT FOR CURSIVE

Bateman, a 72-year-old state representative from Idaho, says cursive 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 ornate 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."

WHY WAS IT DROPPED?

State leaders who developed the Common Core — a set of preferred K-12 course offerings for public schools — omitted cursive for a host of reasons, including an increasing need for children in a digital-heavy age to master computer keyboarding and evidence that even most adults use some hybrid of classic cursive and print in everyday life.


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"If you just stop and think for a second about what are the sorts of skills that people are likely to be using in the future, it’s much more likely that keyboarding will help students succeed in careers and in school than it is that cursive will," said Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of K-12 policy and leadership at the University of Southern California.

THE MOVEMENT TO HAVE TEACHING CURSIVE RESTORED

States that adopted Common Core aren’t precluded from deviating from the standards. But in the world of education, where classroom time is limited and performance stakes are high, optional offerings tend to get sidelined in favor of what’s required.

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 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.

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. If they can’t write it, how will they communicate from unwired settings like summer camp or the battlefield?

"The Constitution of the United States is written in cursive. Think about that," Bateman said.

WHAT DO THE STUDENTS AND TEACHERS THINK?

All the fuss seems a bit loopy to certain members of Gens X, Y and Z — which have diverged 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, and 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.

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