The 'write' stuff: Cursive has its place in schools

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Bluefield Daily Telegraph (editorial)

In the past, learning how to write in cursive was an important part of every American child’s education. Skill with a pen was an essential part of being able to communicate. Many letters and everyday documents such as property records and wills were written in cursive.

The importance assigned to cursive writing changed as communications technology changed. Typewriters gave people the ability to draft letters and documents in print. This technology was enhanced when personal computers and word processing systems became available. Writers can now proofread their work before printing it on paper; in many cases, the results can be sent by email to their intended recipient. Paper is leaving the personal communications equation.

The Mercer County Board of Education recently saw the results of a survey distributed to the county’s teachers. The participants were asked their opinions concerning penmanship.

Ninety percent of the teachers who responded said it is important to teach penmanship, both cursive and in manuscript. Nine percent disagreed. When asked if teaching cursive writing is important, 87 percent of teachers agreed and 12 disagreed.

In the next questions, teachers were asked if they felt it was important for children to be able to read cursive writing. Many older documents and records, such as the Declaration of Independence, are written in cursive. Ninety-two percent agreed and 7 percent disagreed.

Teachers were finally asked if they integrated cursive writing into their lessons or taught it as a separate subject. Fifty-three percent said they integrated cursive into their lessons, 10 percent said they taught the subject separately, and 39 percent said they did a combination of both.

Members of the board of education respectfully disagree on the importance of teaching cursive handwriting. One, Mary Alice Kaufman, said she believes that teaching cursive writing is still very important. Research shows that cursive writing increases brain development and improves fine motor skills. In recent years, cursive writing has not been emphasized in the United States because teachers are required to teach so many mandated subjects.

Board member Gilbert “Gene” Bailey said he favored teaching handwriting, but it did not have to be cursive writing. He did not feel there was an emphasis for cursive beyond being able to read it and sign a name.

The world is changing and more people are relying on word processors for their writing needs, but there is still room for cursive handwriting. Children learn to write the basic forms of cursive letters, but these lessons gradually become a form of individual expression. Some people use combinations of cursive and print when they write their signature or draft a message.

The board of education has not made any decisions yet about the future of cursive writing in local schools, but it is hoped that cursive handwriting will continue to be an important part of the curriculum.