Flip the script: Cursive sees revival in school instruction
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Cursive writing is looping back into style in schools across the country. It is happening after a generation of students learned only keyboarding, texting and printing out their words longhand.
Alabama and Louisiana passed laws in 2016. The laws mandated cursive proficiency in public schools. They were the latest of 14 states that require cursive. Last fall, New York City schools encouraged the teaching of cursive. New York is the nation's largest public school system with the 1.1 million students. Cursive would largely be taught in third grade.
"It's definitely not necessary. But I think it's, like, cool to have it," said Emily Ma. She is a 17-year-old senior in New York City. She goes to the academically hard Stuyvesant High School. She was never taught cursive in school. She had to learn it on her own.
Penmanship supporters say writing words in an unbroken line of swooshing l's and three-humped m's is just a faster. They say it is an easier way of taking notes. Others say students should be able to understand documents written in cursive. One example might be a letter from Grandma. And still more say it's just a good life skill to have. Especially, when it comes to signing your name.
That was where New York state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis drew the line on the cursive generation gap. She had met an 18-year-old at a voter registration event. He had printed out his name in block letters.
"I said to him, 'No, you have to sign here,'" Malliotakis said. "And he said, 'That is my signature. I never learned script.'"
Malliotakis is a Republican. She represents the New York City borough of Staten Island. She took her concerns to city education officials. She found an open audience.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina passed out a handbook on teaching cursive writing in September. Farina is encouraging principals to use it. It cites research suggesting that fluent cursive helps students master writing tasks such as spelling and sentence construction. That is because they don't have to think as much about forming letters.
Malliotakis also noted that students who can't read cursive will never be able to read historical documents.
"If an American student cannot read the Declaration of Independence, that is sad."
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when cursive writing began to fall out of favor. But cursive instruction was in decline long before 2010. That's when most states adopted the Common Core curriculum standards. The standards say nothing about handwriting.
Some script skeptics question the advantage of cursive writing over printing. They wonder whether teaching it takes away from other valuable teaching.
Anne Trubek is the author of "The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting." She said schools should not require cursive mastery any more than they should require all children to play a musical instrument.
"I think students would all benefit from learning the piano," she said. "But I don't think schools should require all students take piano lessons."
Jessica Geller is the principal at P.S. 166 in Queens. She said there was never a formal decision over the years to stop teaching cursive.
"We just got busy with the addition of technology. And we started focusing on computers," she said.
Third-graders at the school beamed as they got ready for a cursive lesson. The 8-year-olds got their markers out. They straightened their posture and flexed their wrists. Then it was "swoosh, curl, swoosh, curl," as teacher Christine Weltner guided the students in writing linked-together c's and a's.
Norzim Lama said he likes cursive writing more than printing, "'cause it looks fancy." Camille Santos said cursive is "actually like doodling a little bit."
Added Araceli Lazaro: "It's a really fascinating way to write. And I really think that everybody should learn about writing in script."
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What factors work against cursive?
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