Cursive handwriting returns to Missouri classrooms

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Penmanship still pertinent as educators make case for cursive

When Common Core standards for English and math were adopted by 45 states for the purpose of creating consistency in educational benchmarks across states, cursive writing, which has been taught to elementary students since the early 1900s, was dropped as required curriculum.

The main reasoning for the decision was it was no longer deemed to be relevant with the increased use of technology in classrooms.

But it was added back to Missouri classrooms in April, when the state dropped Common Core and announced it had created its own standards.

Sarah Potter, communications director for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), said that part of the justification for removing cursive was because it was no longer perceived as relevant in modern society.

"If you look at most adult writing, it's a mix of printing and cursive," Potter said. "It's a debate for educators because it takes a lot of time to teach it, and with people moving more toward electronic typing, it's really more of an art form, because it looks different from style-to-style."

The centuries-old style of writing, which identifies an individual's distinct handwriting, much like a fingerprint, dates back to the beginnings of American history when founding fathers used the style to draft the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution.

While things like letter-writing may be nearly obsolete, which has been all but replaced by emails, in spite of the prevalence of iPhones, tablets, keyboards, cursive writing is still used to sign legal documents, checks, to convey one's thoughts, is used in notes, greeting cards, art, signage, businesses, and in many brand names, such as the Coca-Cola logo and Ford logo, written in Spencerian Script, which was used in the U.S. from 1850-1925, prior to the adoption of typewriters.

"My understanding is that cursive was removed to adapt to technology," said Andrew Hoskins, Cassville High School Social Studies teacher. "Since most schools are utilizing technology, more students are using it in the classroom. Sadly, written notes and assignments are becoming a thing of the past."

When Common Core standards were adopted, the Southwest, Exeter, Cassville and Purdy school districts chose to continue teaching cursive writing, even though they did not have to. Barry County parents, school districts, and teachers alike make a case for cursive and penmanship, and welcome its official return to classrooms.

"I never agreed with cursive being removed from the curriculum, and I am thrilled my youngest child was taught cursive at Southwest," said parent Karen Huffman. "I had to teach three of my children cursive at home. Cursive is more than just a handwriting style;. It develops motor skills and connections within a child's developing brain that assist in many other activities and subjects. Socially speaking, my children's grandparents only write in cursive and it would be a true loss if they never had the opportunity to read a card or letter written by that generation because someone in academia decided cursive was unnecessary."

"During the Spring semester, second-grade students are taught proper letter formation and are provided with opportunities to practice to master this skill," said Kara Hendrix, Southwest curriculum director.

"As a third-grade teacher, I am excited that cursive handwriting is being reinstated into the Missouri State Standards," said Angel Christy, Exeter English teacher. "I personally have always felt cursive handwriting is important, and still teach it through modeling, small group instruction, and as weekly practice through homework. Cursive handwriting is important for the development of fine motor skills, gives students the ability to read important historical documents, and enables students the ability to sign legal documents when they become of age."

Tim Jordan, Exeter Elementary School principal, said his school teaches cursive in third grade.

"Also, I have encouraged my fourth- through eighth-grade teachers to continue to reinforce the use of cursive in their writing," he said.

"Handwriting is something that we will always have to fall back on, and technology, although easy and readily available, can be unreliable at times," Hoskins said. "Students need to be able to put their thoughts to paper just as much as they can to a tablet or computer."

"We still teach cursive handwriting, but not at the intensity as we did in previous years," said Jill LeCompte, Cassville assistant superintendent. "I think it will be good to be able to make the additional time to teach cursive again as an individual subject."

Exeter Social Studies Teacher Leslie Hubert, who served on the committee to rewrite the new standards, said she wasn't sure why cursive writing was removed in the first place, considering its benefits.

"Research suggests that printing letters and writing in cursive activate different parts of the brain," she said. "Learning cursive is good for children's fine motor skills, and writing in longhand generally helps students retain more information and generate more ideas. Studies have also shown that kids who learn cursive rather than simply manuscript writing score better on reading and spelling tests, perhaps because the linked-up cursive forces students to think of words as wholes instead of parts."

"In terms of cursive writing, there are many obvious needs and applications," said Dr. Steven Chancellor, Purdy superintendent. "Introducing it in second grade seems very appropriate in terms of fine-motor development and readiness. We are very comfortable reintegrating it into our curriculum."

"Having cursive handwriting as part of the Missouri Learning Standards will help to create consistency among Missouri schools," said Dr. Ernest Raney, Exeter superintendent.

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