Writing off cursive? Not in Catholic schools
By Nissa LaPoint
The writing may be on the wall for cursive. But Denver Catholic schools refuse to type up its obituary.
While more of the nation’s public schools adopt standards lacking cursive requirements, educators in the Denver Archdiocese said they won’t write it off.
“It is dying even in the state of Colorado,” said Mary Cohen, associate superintendent of the Office of Catholic Schools. “But we’re committed to teaching children in the art of cursive writing.”
Forty-five states, including Colorado, have adopted through its state legislature or school boards the new Common Core State Standards for English, a framework for education standards that rarely mentions handwriting—stylistically referring to both print and cursive styles—and excludes cursive altogether.
“We’re focusing less on writing and more about the content of what they’re writing about in preparation for college and a career,” said Melissa Colsman, executive director of teaching and learning for the Colorado Department of Education.
While school districts may choose to teach cursive, state standards don’t require it, she added.
The antiquated skill, opponents say, is unnecessary in an increasingly digitally-centric world and waste of classroom time better spent on other academic subjects.
Proponents counter that beyond its historical significance, cursive boosts motor skills, brain development and correlates with academic achievement. Cohen said cursive is a timeless skill which shows reverence and enhances dignity.
In the midst of debates, Denver Archdiocese Catholic school administrators are revising its curriculum—completed every five years—for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Cursive objectives will be maintained and a required skill by the end of third grade.
“Given the research we have, we’re going to keep it,” Cohen said.
Keeping cursive in schools has literary benefits. According to research presented at the January 2012 “Handwriting in the 21st Century?: An Educational Summit” in Washington, D.C., oral and written language is interconnected to effective communication.
Educational psychology professor Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington said she found second-, fourth- and sixth-graders who used handwriting wrote more words, wrote faster and expressed more ideas than those using keyboarding. A separate examination of 144 pupils revealed improved handwriting correlated with improved reading skills, word recognition, compositional abilities and memory.
Third-grade teacher Regina Hombs of All Souls School in Englewood is adamant about teaching the dying skill.
She said cursive, especially for special needs children, makes it “easier for them to recognize a word rather than a bunch of letters.” The flow of cursive aids in pronunciation, too, she said.
Cognitive and motor benefits
Handwriting also supports brain function.
National Handwriting Day on Jan. 23
The Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association established this day to recognize the value of handwriting and encourage its use. The day was established in 1977 and celebrated on Jan. 23, the birthday of John Hancock, who is known for his iconic signature on the Declaration of Independence.
“When we (handwrite), there’s something happening neurologically that’s beneficial,” Cohen said.
In a research study, Indiana University’s Karin James, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, found the act of writing by hand caused a significant increase in children’s brain activation. Using an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scan, James showed students who wrote well engaged more of their brain’s visual regions than typing.
Recognizing its importance, Catholic teachers on the Office of Catholic School’s curriculum committee board gave unanimous approval for its continued use in the classroom.
Hombs said she’s noted learning cursive will boost her student’s emotional development.
“They’re very proud it,” she said when her students handwrite. “It’s very good for self esteem. Now they’re writing like an adult.”
Cursive also contributes to intimacy and is considered proper etiquette for occasions like sending thank you notes and birthday cards.
“People think we don’t need this anymore because we have technology, but we still want to able to write in cursive. It’s polite to handwrite a note because it’s a way of reverencing them,” Cohen said. “You leave your DNA on paper.”
Cursive, she said, will stay in Catholic schools.
“It’s really an important part of our humanity.”