|Is cursive history?|
|Is cursive history?|
|Written by RIck West/Janesville Messenger|
|Thursday, 07 February 2013 13:48|
An antique postcard shows cursive penmanship that many youngsters learned in grade school. Today’s students aren’t as practiced at cursive as those in the past, as the importance of the penmanship style has diminished as the world becomes more and more digital.
ELKHORN — When soldiers in Napoleon’s army uncovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799, it unlocked the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Who knows, in the year 2799, there might be an archeologist who goes down in the history books as the explorer who discovered a buried Palmer Method of Handwriting textbook, unlocking the secrets of a 19th and 20th century American hieroglyph known as cursive handwriting.
Cursive handwriting is any style of penmanship in which the symbols of the language are written in a conjoined and/or flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing faster.
But some of today’s education experts believe cursive writing is a waste of time in a digitized society where even personal signatures are now accepted electronically.
The Palmer Method of penmanship instruction was developed and promoted by Austin Palmer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It soon became the most popular handwriting system in the United States.
“When I taught school, penmanship was very important,” said Doris Reinke, a retired teacher in Elkhorn. “We practiced loops and shoved the pen up and down so we had nice sloping straight lines in our writing.”
Reinke, 91, taught kindergarten and second grade for 41 years in Elkhorn, from 1943 to 1984.
“Even back in college you had to take a class on how to teach it, and the teacher was very strict and you had to rewrite lots of things,” said Judy Snyder, 70, who taught elementary school in Janesville from 1962 to 2000, mostly at Jefferson Elementary School.
“In the last 10 years I taught, we thought it was important to bring back cursive writing, but now they’ve changed their minds again,” Reinke said.
Reinke joked that the day might come when the knowledge of and ability to read cursive writing will be a marketable skill reserved for a select few among museum curators. And museums may well be the only place in generations to come that samples of cursive handwriting can be viewed.
“There was a time, of course, when books were all copied by hand by the monks in the monasteries and nobody was able to read or write unless you were very, very important,” Reinke said. “I can remember using an ink pen and blotter; those are experiences you don’t get anymore.”
Some educators believe the skill of cursive writing is still necessary, so students can hone their fine motor skills, reinforce literacy and develop their own personal identity.
“I think people need to be able to sign their name in cursive writing and I think people should be able to read cursive,” Snyder said. “I think some of our young educators are coming out not seeing the value of cursive writing.”
In 2008, a nationwide survey found that only 12 percent of elementary school teachers had taken a course in how to teach cursive handwriting.
The debate among educators over cursive handwriting comes at a time when more than 40 states already have moved toward adopting national curriculum guidelines for 2014 — for English and math — that do not include cursive handwriting, but instead require proficiency in computer keyboarding before completion of elementary school.
Several states have decided to add a cursive requirement to their standards, while other states, including Wisconsin, have left cursive writing education as optional.
“It’s not a major focus, but we’re still teaching it,” said Julie DeCook, kindergarten through eighth grade communication arts coordinator for the Janesville School District. “One of our expectations is that all of our (students) will be able to sign their name in cursive and develop a signature. We also want them to be able to read cursive, so that doesn’t become a barrier to them.”
Whether it’s required or not, cursive handwriting is fast becoming a lost art or skill as schools increasingly replace pen and paper with iPads and eBooks. Even standardized tests are on track nationally to be administered via computer.
In 2006, only 15 percent of students taking the SAT post-secondary education entrance exam wrote their essay answers in cursive.
DeCook said printing is taught to Janesville’s students from pre-kindergarten through second grade, with cursive handwriting taught as part of the third-grade curriculum. She added, however, the method now taught is a simplified system known as Handwriting Without Tears.
“It’s much less flowery than D’Nealian or some of the other manuscripts that you see,” she said. “It’s much more simplified and easier to learn.”
Handwriting Without Tears, developed by a physical therapist, is a teaching method created to provide developmentally appropriate, multisensory tools and strategies for the classroom. According to the company’s website, “The program follows research that demonstrates children learn more effectively by actively doing, with materials that address all styles of learning.”
DeCook said once a student exits third grade, cursive handwriting disappears from the school curriculum.
“I’m sure teachers will integrate it by maybe requiring some assignments to be written in cursive,” DeCook said. “But we don’t have any designated time during the day specifically for handwriting in grades four and up.”
This isn’t the first time schools have simplified cursive handwriting.
“When I taught, we came down from Zaner-Bloser, which was a kind of script we used that was very fancy, then it got much easier with different kinds of cursive writing,” Snyder said. “For example, you would print your ‘A’ with a tail on it, so you were ready to hook onto the next letter.”
Reinke added when she taught, there was a purpose for teaching printing prior to third grade.
“In the lower grades, we did printing because we felt it was easier (for the students) to jump from printing to reading printing in books,” Reinke said, adding that girls generally had better cursive handwriting skills than boys. “They didn’t have their hands all banged up from baseball and football,” she said. “Girls back then were holding a needle and doing fancy work — it made a difference. And the (girls) motor skills usually developed a little earlier in life.”
Retired teachers, grandparents and even parents might be a little taken aback, when recalling the hours they spent in their elementary classroom learning “penmanship,” a skill now being eliminated at most schools across the country in favor of 21st century skills.
“I guess we’ve moved into the electronic age whether we want to or not,” Reinke said.
It would seem that two of the longstanding R’s of education, reading and w(r)iting, have been replaced by the I’s and E’s of iPads and eBooks.
“It bothers me, but it is the way of the world,” Snyder said.