Archive for Thursday, October 12, 2006

Except for a few defenders, cursive all but written off

October 12, 2006


The computer keyboard helped kill shorthand, and now it's threatening to finish off longhand.

When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.

And those college hopefuls are just the first edge of a wave of U.S. students who no longer get much handwriting instruction in the primary grades, frequently 10 minutes a day or less. As a result, more and more students struggle to read and write cursive.

Many educators shrug. Stacked up against teaching technology, foreign languages and the material on standardized tests, penmanship instruction seems a relic, teachers say. But academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it's important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades.

Scholars who study original documents say the demise of handwriting will diminish the power and accuracy of future historical research. And others simply lament the loss of handwritten communication for its beauty, individualism and intimacy.

"It's like so many other things in our society - there's a sense of loss for what once was," said Laura B. Smolken, a professor of elementary education and early childhood development at the University of Virginia.

At Keene Mill Elementary in Springfield, Va., Debbie Mattocks teaches cursive once a week to her gifted-and-talented group of third-graders - mainly so they can read it. All their poems and stories are typed. Children in Virginia's Fairfax County schools are taught keyboarding beginning in kindergarten.

"I can't think of any other place you need cursive as an adult other than to sign your name," she said. "Cursive - that is so low on the priority list, we really could care less. We are much more concerned that these kids pass their (standardized tests), and that doesn't require a bit of cursive."

There are those who say the culture is at a crossroads, turning permanently from the written word to the typed one. If handwriting becomes a lost form of communication, does it matter?

It was at U-Va. that researchers recently discovered a previously unknown poem by Robert Frost, written in his signature script. Handwritten documents are more valuable to researchers, historians say, because their authenticity can be confirmed. Students also find them more intriguing.

"They feel closer to that person as an actual human, that somebody actually wrote that just like me," said Jim Mohr, a professor of U.S. history at the University of Oregon at Eugene, who wrote a book on diaries from the Civil War. "There's a kind of personal authenticity to individual writing that's hard to capture any other way."


Janet Lowther 11 years, 8 months ago

Some time back I read about a special education teacher who found some of the students who were failing in regular classes and being referred to her class were failing simply because they could not read their teacher's cursive writing on the black board, and were too embarrassed to ask what the assignment was. . . She taught 'em how to read cursive, got 'em up to speed and sent them back to regular classes.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 8 months ago

This teacher only does instruction on cursive once a week? No wonder it's dying out.

I think it should still be an important part of education.

Godot 11 years, 8 months ago

The computer took my cursive writing skills away from me when it gave me carpal tunnel syndrome.

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