Handwriting in school is in jeopardy, but let’s not forget the reasons why it’s important

The potential for many schools across the country to embrace cursive is in doubt following a Virginia state judge’s ruling Thursday.

In this state where we celebrate or lament the perceived demise of any kind of writing from learning to speak and write in cursive to the emergence of tech, it’s about time that we celebrate the ability to write legibly by taking note of who started it all: By the 14th century our forefathers developed the vocabulary and formalized the art in a giant hand manuscript, the Mayflower Compact. Since then, handwriting instruction has become the foundation of every school’s teaching strategy and fostered careers and an entirely new language of communication.

Cursive has retained its clout in the nation’s teaching standards and, with that in mind, the rise of a cursive-optional mandate has caught the attention of a variety of experts. But much like saying goodbye to piano lessons, there are many schools in the United States that only employ cursive instruction for the most elementary of children, as evidenced by a Pew Internet study from 2009 that found that one-third of Americans were taught cursive in school.

For the high-school aged, that number has gone up significantly over the past few years, if you look at the new standards from the National Council of Teachers of English.

The report notes that 91 percent of schools teach cursive, up from 80 percent in 2007. The report suggests an increase in cursive instruction can be attributed to widespread attention, not to the rise of technology, and to varying attitudes among teachers regarding handwriting instruction.

That poll by Pew is based on responses from 1,157 teachers and 3,713 students. School districts with some kind of instructions in cursive are those that use it only as part of a reading instruction that starts when students are in first grade.

The Pew report notes that the opinions of teachers toward the art of cursive vary widely with many teachers saying they enjoy teaching it. But despite that, many teachers think computers would be more helpful in today’s technology-infused world. The percentage of teachers who think they could train students to use computers to write the letters of the alphabet in cursive is growing.

Cursive is shown to be an essential skill for students, especially those who write in English. It’s not just kids who have mastered cursive though; as shown in this list from the University of Virginia’s Center for Teaching Excellence, 81 percent of professors, 76 percent of researchers and 64 percent of librarians reported skills on writing and proofreading of students’ handwriting and grammar in addition to completing homework and projects.

But even with the lessons of the Wirtz research, there is still much to be said for a pencil and paper. There’s the world of fancy bookbinding being produced by Pompeii artisan Monica Caserta. Bookbinding, which you can learn all about at http://w3.st/12i5g73, is nothing like the efforts of the real Moses or that shack that Elvis built.

The letterform is interesting, but there is more to come from it. Caserta’s booksmanship involves artists using a hot glue gun and glue’s of various types to create the designs which then go onto wood panels and walls. The cover art of an old book or local woodcutter’s journal is a treat in itself. The archives of the book’s original author can also be found thanks to a combination of reference books and local repositories that are only available on CD-ROM.

As education in this country becomes more technology-driven, it’s not surprising that some educators are opting out of cursive instruction. But as the next generation of students begins to learn letter patterns, they will be given the chance to practice penmanship and letters of a different power.

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