By Jennifer Bioche
I am standing over one of my three sons just after Christmas, watching him complete a handwritten thank-you note to a relative for a gift. “Cross that t … dot that i …” sounds cliche to anyone born after 1970 … but perhaps not after 2003.
When my children send out personal cards, I remind them that their handwriting represents themselves, so neatness counts.
Except some schools don’t think so.
With the increase of technology in elementary, middle and high school curriculums, I have heard the buzz about cursive going away. Not just that we won’t be writing letters with pen and paper; email has pretty much mostly done away with that. But the actual teaching of cursive to our children could be on the chopping block.
Some states such as Illinois, Indiana and Hawaii are leaving cursive as “optional” for school districts. I ran this by some Iowa educators to see where the Hawkeye state is headed.
Principal Ann Hart of Waukon’s East Elementary is a fan of cursive, and was quoted last May in The Gazette when one of her students won a national handwriting contest: “I get a lot of grief from my fellow administrators who don’t understand why we still teach handwriting.”
In light of the cursive discussion, I talked with her.
“We teach handwriting because we value it. Our country’s historical documents are written in cursive. Shouldn’t an educated citizenry be able to read the constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence? And I think many are of us are judged by our signature,” she said via email.
She had me at the first sentence: “we value it.” Education often reflects the values of the community.
Katie Mulholland, Superintendent of Linn-Mar School district, had this to say about cursive and whether we’ll see it going away from local schools:
“I am (or was once) a calligrapher. So I see cursive as a form of communication that lends beauty to the written word. But, that is not the root of teaching cursive, which was intended to make doing the written word a much faster task to complete. The question on whether to teach is about stimulating a discussion on why to teach.”
She also noted a recent Wall Street Journal article, “The new script for teaching handwriting is no script at all” (Jan. 30). It featured a handful of opinions and educators’ decisions about cursive.
“We’re trying to be realistic about skills that kids are going to need,” said Jill Camnitz, a longtime school board member in Greenville, N.C. “You can’t do everything. Something’s got to go.”
Perhaps, but does that mean we stop teaching our children how to speak English because “there’s an app for that”?
The article quotes handwriting analyst Michelle Dresbold, who mentions developmental downfalls:
“Typing doesn’t help the brain develop as much as writing in longhand, a tactile means of expression with roots in scratching on cave walls. With typing, the fingers make repetitive movements rather than connect shapes.”
Yes our children need to learn keyboarding skills. But to do so at cursive’s expense is a bad idea. It would equate to not teaching your children how to cook as we now have so many frozen foods to choose from.
There are inherent skills in learning cursive that add value to one’s life: small motor control, hand-eye coordination, reading historical documents or simply a letter from a relative.
Cursive in the classroom needs to be continued. Parents should encourage handwriting in daily life because relying exclusively on technology to communicate is an Orwellian disaster waiting to happen.
Iowans need to tell school decision-makers that cursive still matters — preferably with a handwritten note, on nice stationary.
Jennifer Bioche of Marion is a freelance writer who volunteer teaches “Writer’s Workshop — Where Words Matter” to fifth-graders at St. Joseph Catholic School in Marion. Comments firstname.lastname@example.org.