Cursive writing appears to be widening the communication gap between generations.
Sandy Lessentine, a member of the Lake Central School Board, is also a math teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. She told the board recently that, as a teacher, she frequently writes notes to the students when returning their homework or test scores. Recently, a student told her she couldn’t read the note because it was in cursive.
Several students then spoke up and said they couldn’t read Lessentine’s notes either, which she said are actually a hybrid of cursive and printing.
“This is the first year I’ve run into it,” Lessentine said. “I’m thankful the one kid spoke up, which got others to speak up. If they can’t read my writing, I will have to print everything. Is it a little more work? Yes, but I don’t mind. Now that we all work on computers and I can type the comments, I don’t know what the impact will be.”
The decision by most schools to drop cursive occurred about nine years ago when states, including Indiana and Illinois, adopted the Common Core Curriculum pushed by the federal government, said Indiana Sen. Jean Leising, R-Batesville. With computers and keypads commonplace in our everyday lives, many consider cursive irrelevant or a relic of our nostalgia. Common Core made cursive optional and most schools, especially public schools, opted not to teach it.
“When Tony Bennett was state superintendent of schools, he didn’t think it was important, and it was not included,” Leising said. “Eight years ago, I started the effort to get it back. I got it through the Senate each year, but it was killed in the House by the Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), who refused to give it a hearing.”
She introduced the bill again this year, but the Senate has a new education committee chairman this year in Jeff Raatz, R-Centerville, and he has not scheduled a hearing.
“I had interns last year who were college students and couldn’t read cursive,” Leising said. “If you work for a senator, like myself or someone of the same age group, the interns can’t read our notes.”
Leising said she’s heard stories from constituents about problems caused when a person doesn’t know cursive. For instance, a couple took their teenage son to get a passport and didn’t know he hadn’t been taught cursive. He was turned down for the passport because of his inability to sign his name. The parents had to take him aside and teach him cursive so he could sign properly.
She said she’s heard of license bureaus not accepting printed signatures. Most of the Senate pages, who are between the ages of 12 and 18, in recent years have been unable to write the senators the required thank-you notes at the end of the session.
“When I first started this, I thought everybody should be able to write and sign their name,” Leising said. “Then I had people testify that learning cursive is good for brain development, and those with dyslexia were helped by learning it. They now know that students who take notes with a pen and paper will retain the information better than if they do it on a keypad.”
Several studies have shown that learning cursive “is an important tool for cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to learn ‘functional specialization,’ that is, the capacity for optimal efficiency,” according to William R. Klemm in Psychology Today.
“Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of the brain become co-activated during the learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice,” Klemm said.
“There is a spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. You have to pay attention and think about what and how you are doing it. You have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.”
All the expert testimony in support of teaching cursive have not swayed Behning, who told The Times, “Each school district is unique, and locals are in the best position to determine if teachers should devote time to teaching students cursive writing.
“While cursive writing is not required to be taught by state law, educators have the flexibility to teach students this skill,” he said.
Leising said 25 states now have mandated the teaching of cursive, and private schools are more likely to teach cursive than public schools. This could mean public schools in states like Indiana and Illinois are falling behind.
“We always worry about the disparity between public and private schools, but almost all private schools are teaching cursive,” Leising said. “Now we are going to have kids who graduate with that skill and those without it. If I was interviewing someone for their experience, I would ask if they had the ability to read and write cursive.”
Lessentine wondered, “Is it like calligraphy that is just a fancy writing that only a few know how to do? It will be really weird if my grandchildren will not be able to read my notes in their birthday cards.”