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April 7, 2013

Cursive writing at risk in U.S. schools

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Not far from State Sen. Jean Leising’s Capitol office is a museum that prominently displays documents penned by Abraham Lincoln. It’s a favorite educational destination for Indiana schoolchildren in the state where the 16th president grew up.

But Leising worries Lincoln’s elegant script may soon be indecipherable to young visitors because schools in Indiana and elsewhere are now allowed to drop cursive writing instruction under new national teaching standards crafted for the digital age.

Leising is convinced it’s a dangerous trend. To preserve penmanship, she has championed a bill to mandate cursive writing courses in all Indiana elementary schools.

“If kids aren’t taught how to write it, they won’t be able to read it,” said Leising. “So, in a sense, we’ll be creating a new kind of illiteracy.”

The use of cursive writing has been fading from society since the arrival of the computer keyboard. Advocates of longhand blame the so-called common core education standards for hastening its demise.  Debate over the issue has pitted teachers against teachers, and a fear by historians we are raising a generation of  handwriting illiterates.

Rolled out in 2010 by the National Governors Association and adopted by 45 states for implementation by next year, the standards set uniform expectations for what students need to learn to succeed in the technology-centric 21st century.

Those standards include proficiency in computer keyboarding by the fourth grade, but make no mention of the need for cursive writing ability, even though it has been integral to American culture since the nation’s founding.

That lack of mention has moved schools to abandon resources and courses once devoted to teaching penmanship – much to the dismay of those who say the curriculum change will eventually lead to an inability to comprehend both historic and contemporary handwritten documents, including identifying signatures.

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