Cursive penmanship no longer required, but many schools refuse to let it go

Angela Russell, fourth grade teacher at Clarkdale-Jerome School, helps Aiden Ashkar on the finer points of cursive writing. Aiden says he is pretty good with writing the letters e, n, i, t, r and c. (Photo by Bill Helm)

Angela Russell, fourth grade teacher at Clarkdale-Jerome School, helps Aiden Ashkar on the finer points of cursive writing. Aiden says he is pretty good with writing the letters e, n, i, t, r and c. (Photo by Bill Helm)

VERDE VALLEY - Once upon a time, it was a requirement to learn cursive writing in school. Proper penmanship was a rite of passage to being an adult.

It seemed at the time that only doctors were excused for their sloppy writing.

Today, penmanship appears to have gone the way of the Buffalo nickel.

Though he says cursive should be taught, Gov. Doug Ducey recently vetoed a bill requiring schools to include cursive reading and writing in their curriculum.

Not a requirement for children to pass from the fifth- to the sixth-grade, cursive is still taught in many Verde Valley schools.

United Christian School, in Camp Verde, teaches a classical curriculum that includes the teaching of cursive. According to UCS Principal Kathy Becker, cursive is a "valuable tool which we should all take advantage of."

All UCS students are taught cursive beginning in the first grade. By the end of the second grade, students are expected to be writing "completely in cursive."

Becker says there are several reasons why her school teaches cursive.

"Cursive uses both sides of the brain, the intellectual side as well as the artistic side," Becker says. "And also, cursive helps children to develop the ability to focus. This is a lesson we teach early and which will stay with a student the rest of their life."

Reading - and writing

Though Ducey does not share the belief that cursive is becoming a lost art, some Verde Valley teachers say he is wrong. And that it is their responsibility to rediscover the skill by teaching it each day, even if only for a short time.

Not all elementary school teachers include cursive in their lesson plans. It's not required. At Clarkdale-Jerome School, the teachers who teach cursive begin in the third grade, though mostly the final quarter of the year. By fourth grade, those who teach it are dedicated to further imparting the skill to their students. Angela Russell, fourth-grade teacher at Clarkdale-Jerome School, says handwritten notes "are important - and their writing needs to be legible."

As she prepares her Clarkdale-Jerome students for Russell's class, third-grade teacher Gigi Trujilo says that learning cursive is not just about writing.

"As far as reading cursive, all of our historical documents are in cursive," Trujilo says. "I think it's appropriate that they have that skill. It's an art."

A valuable skill

A "valuable skill" is how Verde Valley Christian School Administrator Ben Russel describes cursive.

"We don't spend an inordinate amount of time on it," Russel says. "Cursive has always been a part of our school, reading and writing."

Verde Valley Christian School educators begin teaching cursive in second grade. By the end of third grade, students are doing all of their work in longhand.

"We feel like it's an important curriculum for kids," Russel says. "The world is changing, but we believe it's still a value for kids to know. The ability to read it is an important thing. If I didn't know how to read or write in cursive, that would cut me off from a lot of things."

Challenges of cursive

Learning cursive takes time. For some, a lot of time. One child at Clarkdale-Jerome says he does well with the letters e, n, i, t, r and c. He struggles with the uppercase G. Other children, Angela Russell says, may have trouble if they have fine motor skills problems.

"Holding the pencil a certain way," she says. "It takes a lot of practice."

A lost art

Cursive is not a requirement at Camp Verde Elementary School, says Principal Britta Booth, "but quite a few teachers include cursive in their instruction." One of the school's third-grade teachers says society is in danger of "losing cursive."

Calli Brooks is a first-year teacher at CVES after spending the past few years teaching sixth grade where many of her students "could not even decipher my writing."

"Many of my previous students had learned only to sign their names," Brooks says. "I had to print, just so they could read the board."

Brooks teaches cursive, she says, because of studies she has read "that show it is beneficial to kids' brains, including evidence that kids with dyslexia do better with cursive than with print." Brooks also says that learning cursive helps students "slow down and concentrate on their work."

"They are proud when their penmanship is beautiful," Brooks says.

By the end of the year, Brooks says she expects her students to do all of their work in cursive," so they can do the same in fourth grade. 

Prioritizing the task - and the skill

Though Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District's K-3 curriculum includes penmanship and cursive, Superintendent Barb U'Ren understands the need to understand not only the art of cursive, but its place within an ever-evolving society.

"What is more important, being proficient in legible cursive or being proficient in communicating through technology?" U'Ren asks. "It is also evident that written communication has evolved to using technology for communication rather than hand writing documents. With all of the demands placed upon teachers to teach, cursive often does not rise to top of the priority list. Students need to write legibly for teachers to assess their work and for certain tasks in the workforce."

Moving forward

Today, successfully writing and reading cursive is not a requirement for students to pass from the fifth grade to the sixth grade. Though most technologies have negated the need for cursive, those same technologies have also decreased the need for long division or using a map.

The measure Ducey vetoed would have required students to show by the end of fifth grade an ability "to create readable documents through legible cursive handwriting."

Despite the no-vote, cursive will still be taught in the Verde Valley

"The Declaration of Independence was written in cursive," says Britta Booth. "And I really want my kids to be able to read it."

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42 and on Facebook at @CampVerdeBugle

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