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As youth write off script, educators defend it

Published: Mon, August 8, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.


Kim Kurtz, left, a Youngstown State University student from Vandalia, Ohio, prints her class notes and writes in cursive only when signing her name. Above, YSU junior Ryan McGiffin of Girard never uses cursive. Though his signature is legible, McGiffin said it is “terrible.”


Wiley Collett of Troy, Ohio, a Youngstown State University sophomore, shows how he prints and cursively writes his name.


YSU junior Ryan McGiffin of Girard never uses cursive. Though his signature is legible, McGiffin said it is “terrible.”


Rayana McGuire, a Youngstown State University sophomore, said she rarely writes in cursive. Need proof? Check out how she signs her last name.

By Denise Dick


Rayana McGuire of Youngstown rarely writes in cursive.

“The only time I write in cursive is when I’m signing my name,” the Youngstown State University sophomore said.

She’s not alone.

Every year, Beloit College in Wisconsin releases a Mindset List “to reflect the world view of entering first-year students.”

First on the list for the college class of 2014: “Few in the class know how to write in cursive.”

So in this age of text messaging, is cursive going the way of the typewriter and cassette tapes?

For taking notes in class, McGuire prints, and when she’s communicating with friends, it’s email, or more often, texts.

It’s a similar story with Boardman High School sophomore Richard Steiner. He hasn’t written in cursive since sixth grade. Other than his signature, he doesn’t use it, opting to print in class.

Judah Johngrass, a junior at Boardman, uses a combination of printing and cursive for her notes. Her demonstration resembled printed letters with connecting pen strokes.

Indiana recently dropped cursive writing as part of required instruction and mandated that elementary school children learn keyboarding.

At least part of the reason some states have abandoned such instruction is the Common Core standards, an initiative adopted by most states that outlines the knowledge and skills children should learn in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The standards don’t include cursive, but they do include keyboarding.

While Ohio has adopted the standards, it hasn’t dropped cursive writing from the curriculum and Mahoning Valley schools teach it in elementary school.

“The Common Core State Standards emphasize keyboarding, but the Ohio Department of Education continues to encourage the development of cursive,” Patrick Gallaway, an ODE spokesman, said in an email. “In addition, we will be developing lessons to go in our Model Curriculum that have cursive instruction (reading and writing of cursive) embedded within them. Our goal is to help teachers see multiple ways to instruct cursive efficiently within the context of what they already teach, rather than separating it from the tasks of reading and writing instruction.”

But it’s an unused skill by many young people.

Kim Kurtz, a YSU sophomore from Vandalia, Ohio, prints her class notes and only writes in cursive when she’s signing her name

Then, she has to think about it. It takes me a long time,” she said, joking that she worries her hesitation will make people question whether it’s actually her signature or she’s forging someone else’s.

Wiley Collett, a YSU sophomore from Troy, Ohio, is an exception.

He takes notes in cursive even though must of his outside-of-school communication occurs electronically.

But YSU junior Ryan McGiffin, of Girard, said he never uses cursive. He prints in all caps in class.

“It’s easier to distinguish between the letters and numbers,” said McGiffin, who takes many math courses.

When he wrote his name to demonstrate, he hesitated with his pen.

“Oh, that’s terrible,” McGiffin said while inspecting the finished product.

Steve Graham, a researcher at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, has studied handwriting and says there’s still a need for students to learn some form of writing.

While most homes have a computer, most students use pen and paper while in school, he said.

We live in a hybrid world and handwriting hasn’t disappeared, Graham said.

“People form opinions about the quality of your ideas based on legibility of your handwriting,” he said.

Studies have shown that when the same paper was written neatly and written less so, the paper that was less legible was rated of lower quality.

“As long as we live in this hybrid world, it’s important for them to, in a sense, master this skill early and efficiently,” Graham said.

That could be done in about 15 minutes per day, two days per week, he said.

Like Judah, the Boardman High School student, about two-thirds of students surveyed write in a combination of print and cursive, Graham said.

And those students tend to write faster than those who use either print or cursive alone.

“Our take is that kids pick the letter forms that are the easiest and quickest for them to produce,” Graham said.

At Liberty schools, students focus on cursive handwriting in fourth grade.

Superintendent Stanley Watson said schools no longer put as much emphasis on the handwriting style as they used to.

“Personally, I think it adds value,” Watson said. “There’s a developmental type of thing you learn from cursive writing. There’s the discipline and the mechanics of doing it, but I also believe there’s an artistic and aesthetic part of learning to write cursive.”

Children also have to learn it in order to write their signatures, something that’s still unique to each individual, he said.

In Youngstown schools, students learn cursive in third grade, said Beverly Schumann, director of curriculum and community support.

Children in the Austintown schools learn cursive handwriting primarily in second and third grade. The trend of cursive instruction’s phase out is troubling to Superintendent Vince Colaluca.

“Even if they don’t know how to write it, they still have to know how to read it,” he said.

At Boardman schools, students learn cursive in third grade.

Linda Ross, director of curriculum and instruction, believes that instruction should continue.

“I think it’s important to have functional skills for life and cursive is one of those and should be taught as part of the English language curriculum,” Ross said.

Ross believes the instruction and the handwriting style still have merit.

“It’s just a given that we need to teach it,” Ross said. “Everyone will have to write their signature at least once in their life.”

Students in Poland learn cursive writing midway through second grade and both Superintendent Robert Zorn and first grade teacher Susan Flasco believe it serves a purpose.

When students write things down, they’re more likely to remember the information, Zorn said.

“Writing it down and taking notes may be old fashioned, but it sure does work,” the superintendent said.


1ts1227(137 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

It's not even really that much tied to the technologies, in my opinion.

I'm only in my mid 20's, but even when I was in HS just 8-10 years ago texting barely existed (few had it at all, and those who did paid per text), and email was there but not used for everything, at least by teenagers.

I have been required to use cursive outside of a signature once past Junior High (had to write out a privacy/confidentiality statement for a standardized test). I took all notes for HS and college by hand, but I printed them.

Also, you can scribble anything for a signature, basically. The only time I can think of where they actually check to see if my signature matches anything close to what I have signed before is when I vote.

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2piak(508 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

Don't know what to make of this trend. "Cursive" was once known as "penmanship" (back in the 'Dark Ages'). It served a necessary purpose for centuries, until the electric toys got marketed as "cool" and "hip". Even today, there are signatures worth a small fortune to collectors. I'm not sure if saved e-mails will have quite the same value; authenticating them for historical and legal purposes might be difficult.

Writing (cursive/penmanship) is going the way of conversation. We have sterling examples of frantic mom's sending out "where R U" while driving and other such important communications that result in studies by the FCC about broadband usage. So now conversation is also going the same way.

My favorite cartoon was one of some character, a youngster, sitting and looking at a pencil. He was wondering "how do you turn this on?"

But then, that's "progress".

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3anothermike(221 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

Have to agree with some of the other posters....why bother with math since calculators can give you the correct answer (if you know the question). We were all taught handwriting and neatness did count for something. Never heard the work "cursive" until my kids brought it home when began schooling. I guess the goal is to let the kids in third world countries get ahead of ours....or it seems like that is the direction we are headed........

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4khaos(8 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

The educational system seems to have failed for the majority of the commentators here.

If you are able to spell and use grammar, you can communicate using the written word, whether its typed, printed (block letters) or done in cursive.

Yes, anothermike, it's always been known as cursive. Handwriting is HANDWRITING, writing with the hand, be it printing or cursive. Penmanship is the use of an instrument for handwriting, be it printing or cursive.

Cursive was actually first called informal writing. It was used only to be able to write at a faster pace. Even when extremely well done, cursive is still not as easy to read as block letters. If it was, the typewriter would of been made in cursive letters instead.

Things change over time. People who didn't grow up with computers, smart phones, and all the technology that has changed the way we communicate get upset because they feel what they learned is the only right way to do something.

Language is dynamic and always changing. Compare how we write and converse now to how it was done 100 years ago, and then compare that to 100 years prior. How people communicate changes and it always will.

The "electric toys", are actually tools. If you say or write something that allows another person to understand you, it;s communicating. The "where R U" may not be "formal" English, but the person reading it understands.what is being conveyed.

Anyone who thinks we shouldn't teach math because calculators are used and they give everyone the answer has a very limited knowledge of mathematics.

I see a bunch of scared people who feel the life they know threatened. It's not.

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5taxpayer1001(274 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

Great post khaos, certainly puts a different light on the way things are done.

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6anothermike(221 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

Certainly nothing wrong with progress, and all of us understand "where (or wear) R U", but the majority of the "y" generation do not use proper grammar, whether spoken or not written in "cursive". A little more focus on those basics would be like chicken soup, as it couldn't hurt.............

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7daericks(2 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

1. The Declaration of Independence, along with several other documents, is in cursive
2. If you do not learn to write cursive then you do not learn to read cursive.
3. It helps students in fine-tuning their micro motor skills.
4. It teaches “part-to-whole” connections between letters and completed words.
5. It can improve spelling (which is a skill that is nowhere to be found under the adaptation of Common Core Standards).

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8daericks(2 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

1. The Declaration of Independence, along with several other documents, is in cursive
2. If you do not learn to write cursive then you do not learn to read cursive.
3. It helps students in fine-tuning their micro motor skills.
4. It teaches “part-to-whole” connections between letters and completed words.
5. It can improve spelling (which is a skill that is nowhere to be found under the adaptation of Common Core Standards).

**Not ALL young people only write in print. I am 20 years old and the ONLY writing I do is in cursive.**

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