The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 15, 2013

College professors, professionals say cursive important for learning, literacy

Educator emphasizes, ‘If (children) cannot write in cursive, they cannot read in cursive. ... Why would we not teach them cursive?’

BECKLEY — Because the national Common Core State Standards adopted by 45 states do not specifically address cursive writing instruction in elementary schools, many states are following suit and leaving the decision to teach cursive up to individual school districts, specific schools or individual teachers.

The national standards do, however, mandate knowledge of keyboarding, leaving many cursive enthusiasts feeling slighted.

Because many teachers themselves choose if, when and how to teach cursive, researchers who inform educational scholarship and professors who teach future elementary educators currently hold the reins on the future of cursive instruction in schools.

Dr. Shelia Sargent-Martin, co-director of Teacher Education at Bluefield State College, said she believes cursive is a valuable tool that is being lost to many children across the nation.

Likewise, Dr. Kathy Hawks, professor of Education at Concord University, is passionately opposed to eliminating cursive from school curriculum.

“Eliminating cursive writing in public schools will make our children more illiterate. If they cannot write in cursive, they cannot read in cursive. Our goal should be to do everything in our power to empower our children to be globally literate. They should learn foreign languages. Why would we not teach them cursive when it is so readily available?” she asked.

Hawks noted that all of the United States’ historical documents are written in cursive and if, in 50 years, there is a generation of people who are unable to read the Declaration of Independence and the public must rely on interpreters to read the founding documents, it could set the stage for tyranny.

She said that after 21 years in public school before spending the last 13 at Concord, she knows children love to learn and write in cursive.

“I don’t think we would have to choose between cursive writing and keyboarding. Any time in our society that we take away a skill set, it makes our children more illiterate,” she added.

The American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, which launched their Campaign For Cursive in January 2013, said Mexico abolished handwriting training in schools in the 1980s only to reintroduce it into curriculum in 2000 after realizing its benefits.

Sheila Lowe, president of American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, noted that research by Virginia Berniger at the University of Washington shows handwriting stimulates the brain in ways keyboarding doesn’t.

Lowe also states, “The United States Supreme Court has likened handwriting to facial expression, tone of voice, and body language, all expressive gestures. By being in physical touch with the writing instrument on the page, the writer is literally in touch with and processes emotions in a way that keyboarding cannot.”

She explained that children who are not comfortable writing cannot express themselves as well.

Laura Dinehart, an assistant professor at Florida International University’s College of Education, has conducted research that revealed 4-year-olds who have string handwriting skills are more likely to excel academically in elementary school.

Out of 1,000 second-grade students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, students who received good grades on fine motor writing tasks in Pre-K had an average GPA of 3.02 in math and a 2.84 in reading.

Students who had done poorly on fine motor writing tasks in pre-kindergarten had an average GPA of 2.30 in math and 2.12 in reading.

While Dinehart’s study focuses on fine motor writing, not specifically cursive, an Indiana University neuroscientist, Karin Harmon James, is beginning to branch out her research from writing print versus keyboarding to studying the benefits of cursive writing.

Her preliminary research on cursive writing has found that college students remember information better after one week when they transcribe a paragraph in cursive, compared to printing or using a keyboard.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com

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