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States split on need for instruction in cursive

AP
Alexia Herrera practices writing in cursive at St. Mark's Lutheran School in Hacienda Heights, Calif. California is among the states keeping longhand as a third-grade staple. AP

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By The Associated Press
Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 8:52 p.m.
 

LOS ANGELES — The pen may not be as mighty as the keyboard these days, but California and a handful of states are not giving up on handwriting entirely.

Bucking a growing trend of eliminating cursive from elementary school curriculums or making it optional, California is among the states keeping longhand as a third-grade staple.

The state's posture on penmanship is not likely to undercut its place at the leading edge of technology, but it has teachers and students divided over the value of learning flowing script and looping signatures in an age of touchpads and mobile devices.

Some see it as a waste of time, an anachronism in a digitized society where even signatures are electronic, but others see it as necessary so kids can hone fine motor skills, reinforce literacy and develop their own stamp of identity.

The debate arises as 45 states move toward adopting national curriculum guidelines in 2014 for English and math that don't include cursive handwriting, but require proficiency in computer keyboarding by the time pupils exit elementary school.

Several states, including California, Georgia and Massachusetts, have added a cursive requirement to the national standards, while most others, such as Indiana, Illinois and Hawaii, have left it as optional for school districts. Some states, like Utah, are studying the issue.

Whether it's required or not, cursive is fast becoming a lost art as schools increasingly replace pen and paper with classroom computers and instruction is increasingly geared to academic subjects that are tested on standardized exams. Even the standardized tests are on track to be administered via computer within three years.

Experts say manuscript, or printing, may be sufficient when it comes to handwriting in the future.

“Do you really need to learn two different scripts?” asked Steve Graham, education professor at Arizona State University who has studied handwriting instruction. “There will be plenty of kids who don't learn cursive. The more important skill now is typing.”

Cursive still has many proponents who say it benefits youngsters' brains, coordination and motor skills, as well as connects them to the past, whether to handwritten historical documents like the Constitution or to their parents' and grandparents' letters.

Longhand is also a symbol of personality, even more so in an era of uniform emails and texting, they say.

“I think it's part of your identity and part of your self-esteem,” said Eldra Avery, who teaches language and composition at San Luis Obispo High School. “There's something really special and personal about a cursive letter.”

Avery also has a practical reason for pushing cursive: speed. She makes her 11th-grade students relearn longhand simply so they will be able to complete their advancement placement exams. Most students print.

“They have to write three essays in two hours. They need that speed,” she said. “Most of them learned cursive in second grade and forgot about it. Their penmanship is deplorable.”

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