Cursive Writing: Are Its Last Days Approaching?

Article excerpt

Indicators are that technological advances and state-mandated tests, in addition to other variables, are forcing cursive writing to become a casualty of the American educational landscape. It behooves us to examine the historical, practical, and essential aspects relative to cursive writing.

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We no longer use hand cranks to turn down the windows in vehicles. All types of vehicles are now manufactured using electric windows. Then, "why do we force our children to write in a systemized loopy script that is rather difficult to decipher and leaves many adults with knots the size of walnuts on their knuckles?" (Rufo, 2004, p. 4). The digital age of technology increasingly threatens cursive writing because of computers, instant text messaging, e-mails, faxing, and employment applications. State-mandated tests and limited classroom time have also impacted cursive instruction and writing. In many states, cursive writing "varies from district to district and school to school" (Nix, 2008, p. 1). It is time to explore the concerns of cursive instruction. It behooves us to examine the historical, practical, and essential aspects relative to cursive writing.

Historical

Previous generations used cursive writing as an indicator of an educated individual. It was a form of communication. According to Marge Rea, "In 1904, handwriting was considered the most important thing. Before typewriters, everything was handwritten: land deeds, legal paperwork, orders and business records" (as cited in Yackley, 2008, p. 1). The cursive form was often used ornamentally for various types of certificates and diplomas. Further, Tamara Plakins Thornton in Handwriting in America: A Cultural History (1996, p. 41) points out that during the colonial period cursive writing occurred as "self-presentation but not self-expression." She also relates that male handwriting indicated a gentleman's integrity while for women it was a form of artistry.

Practical

In the era of computers and standardized testing, how practical is cursive writing?

   As Carpenter explains:
   The Palmer and Zaner-Bloser penmanship
   methods ruled the day for decades.
   Students spent 45 minutes every day
   on handwriting. Penmanship was a
   separate grade on report cards. Today,
   handwriting instruction might get 10 or
   15 minutes a few times a week. Keyboarding
   skills are taught much earlier,
   now. (2007, p. 3)

With decreasing instruction time to teach students cursive writing, another practical aspect is legibility. Elementary students are taught cursive either in the latter part of second grade or in third grade. Letter configurations change dramatically. For example, the letter "S" in (manuscript) block print is one style; in cursive it is another style. Students have to learn a new set of alphabet letters (both upper and lower case), connect those letters to make words, write sentences, develop paragraphs and execute essays. Usually by fourth grade, there is no continuity in cursive instruction. What are we doing to our diverse classrooms of students? In reality and practicality, the results are mixed writing methods: difficulty in deciphering words, writing projects lacking logical writing/comprehension, and loss of instructional time.

Another practical concern is lefties. "Learning cursive the 'right' way can be a nightmare for lefties. The most common problem is the left wrist hooking around as the child writes, which can be uncomfortable and lead to poor penmanship" states Hudson (1999, p. 1). While lefties have greater challenges, other students may also have difficulty.

With the inclusionary classroom composed of identified students, along with ESL (English Second Language) and ELL (English Limited Language) students, cursive writing instruction can be problematic. Teachers have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) to assist identified students, and content areas progress at varied levels and rates for all learners. …

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