Topeka The age of computers hasn’t yet made handwriting obsolete. But many state school officials are still worried that the traditional loops and slants of cursive penmanship could become a lost art.
According to a survey released Wednesday by the Kansas State Department of Education, 90 percent of state school districts said they are still teaching cursive writing in elementary school. Of those, most begin teaching it in third grade. And in schools where it’s taught, teachers typically spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour a day working on cursive script.
But there were indications in the survey that handwriting skills are losing importance. Nearly 23 percent of districts responding said they do not consider teaching handwriting to be a high priority, and about 6 percent said they anticipate eventually decreasing the amount of class time they spend working on it.
State board member Janet Waugh, of Kansas City, raised the issue about cursive instruction last month. She said she had been contacted by parents and constituents who were concerned that many young people today either can’t write in cursive or can’t read material written in it.
“I started asking people within school systems,” Waugh said. “Cursive is losing priority because of technology.”
Board member Carolyn Campbell, of Topeka, said she noticed during the recent election campaign that cursive seems to be alien to many young people. During one day of campaigning, she tried to help a young person register for the first time.
“His signature was pathetic,” she said. “I asked him if he was going to be a lawyer or a doctor, because they’re known for having terrible handwriting. The mama in me wanted to hand it back to him and tell him to do it over. From his signature, you couldn’t begin to tell what his name was.”
In Lawrence, handwriting is still a high priority in local elementary school curriculum, said Adam Holden, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in the Lawrence school district. It’s generally taught in grades K-4, with instruction in cursive writing usually beginning in third grade and lasting 12 to 18 months. Lawrence uses a commercial writing curriculum product called Handwriting Without Tears, Holden said.
Waugh said she thinks it’s still important to teach handwriting because there are times when people need to jot down notes or messages to someone else. But board member Sue Storm, of Overland Park, was more pessimistic.
“In the future, they’ll probably use email,” she said.
Waugh replied: “I still feel it needs to be taught. There are times when you want to leave someone a note, or even write a check, although I guess checks may be going by the wayside too.”
There also are concerns that the shift to the new Common Core State Standards in English language arts will further endanger cursive writing, because it’s not included as part of those standards. But the Common Core standards do allow states to add up to 15 percent in additional standards for both English language arts and math.
Holden said the Lawrence school district will wait to see whether the State Board of Education decides to add cursive instruction to the state version of Common Core before deciding how much emphasis it will get in the future.
“I have no doubt whatsoever we’ll continue to use a formal writing program, and cursive is just part of that,” he said.