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Cursive writing
Is it obsolete in digital world?
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St. Anthonys student Reese George is intent on perfection with his handwriting. Practicing cursive handwriting methods stimulate the neurons of the brain according to recent studies. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Cursive writing – researchers contend — stimulates the brain.

However, the national trend in education is rapidly dismissing cursive writing as obsolete for the 21st century.

And while it is still included in the primary grades at most public and private schools in Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop the use of cursive writing in the classroom may be numbered.

There is a growing opinion that new technologies that have produced everything from tablets and smartphones to computers to send texts, emails and type reports are making keyboarding essential and handwriting skills superfluous when it comes to communication.

The states of Indiana and Hawaii have dropped cursive writing from their curriculum. 

The Palmer Method of cursive writing has been in use across the country since 1894.  A national survey of elementary school teachers throughout the nation last year showed that some 75 percent of young primary children learn cursive. At the same time educators believe it is on the wane with the approval of Common Core education.

Educators from St. Anthony’s Catholic School, Manteca Unified, Ripon Unified, as well as at Ripon Christian Elementary School say they still teach longhand penmanship. Some see it as a lifelong benefit of their students, others seeing it soon to become obsolete.

MUSD Senior Director of Elementary Education Cheryl Meeker said cursive handwriting will remain in the district curriculum through this year. That may change next school year when  new curriculum from the nationwide Common Core is adopted.

“Cursive writing is seemingly going the way of the dinosaur,” she said.  “Common Core is geared toward college and career readiness and 21st century learners.”

There are some in the next generation of college students that don’t hold that view.

 “I don’t think they should stop teaching cursive, because it would stop neat writing,” noted Lincoln Elementary School fifth grader Robert Isbell, 11.

Isbell, who is now learning fractions, says he leans toward math over language arts but admittedly switches between printing and cursive handwriting depending on what his teachers ask of their students. 

He added that with cursive you are taking more time to make sure it is done right – “the better you write, the better your grade.”  Isbell remembers first learning to write in cursive in the third grade at Joshua Cowell School.

Ripon Unified School District’s Director of Curriculum Kathy Coleman said cursive is taught in the district’s five elementary schools once a week and sometimes more often at the discretion of the teachers.  Coleman said that while cursive writing is not included in the national Common Core standards, California is unique in its support.

Coleman explained that California has reduced some of its math budget for the benefit of Language Arts, partly in support of the cursive instruction in the primary grades that will continue to be taught in Ripon.

“I don’t know that cursive will ever be obsolete in our life time,” she said, because of the old documents that remain in our culture that have to be recognized.

Fourth grade teacher at St. Anthony’s School, Carolyn Cano, noted that studies show that cursive practice improves the brain function of young students – further helping with neuro transmitter brain stimulation and coordination.  It also helps with memory retention, she said.

“We do mandatory (handwriting) for two years.  I think there is a beauty in cursive writing,” she noted.  “I have had some kids with problems reading cursive, unsure of just what the letters represent.”

Cano added that the students are more careful with their cursive writing, wanting to have the best presentation, the best-looking papers.  She noted her class did a Missions report last year.  The 15 pages of research for the report was printed by the students, but the final paper was required to be in cursive. She said seeing student taking pride in their work was beautiful.

Any thank you cards written in class and sent to their parents and others have to be done in cursive, she added. 

“They don’t want to do it, but I tell them it’s best to write it because it’s for their parents – forget the computer,” Cano said.

Students at St. Anthony’s practice their handwriting each week using scripture messages out of Psalms that has a religious message for them in the process.

Howard Rosenthal, PhD., founder of the Great Valley Academy on Button Avenue, just east of Highway 99, said the purpose of cursive writing is that it sharpens the fine motor skills in the elementary school students.

“It used to be an art form up through the ‘50s and ‘60s,” he said.  “It is a skill that develops more gray skills in the brain with the whole purpose behind written works is to ‘get the picture’ and transfer that mental image from one person to another.  It speaks to the quality issues as well.”.

Rosenthal added that cursive practice requires a lot from the neuro systems in the brain.  Humans do many things in the moment – the immediate way – with quick returns as with the use of computers. 

“In a sense it’s going backwards to go forward,” he explained

“When we are communicating with each other through new technologies, we don’t have the benefit of assessing body language as we do when actually speaking and listening to each other.  Writing in cursive shows our personalities underlying our messages,” he indicated.

Well aware of the power of speech, The Great Valley Academy is adding courses in public speaking and debate to their junior high school curriculum next year.

In Ripon, Kevin Schenk, vice principal of Ripon Christian Elementary School, said handwriting is introduced first to their second grade students and is continued to be taught formally through the fourth grade.

“Teachers in grades two through six require some assignments to be completed in cursive,” he added.  “According to several of our elementary teachers, the benefits of teaching handwriting in the younger grades include the essential development of fine motor skills and the confidence which comes from learning and mastering a new skill.  Students who learn to write in cursive will also be able to read cursive handwriting.”

The Ripon Christian vice principal added that his educators acknowledge the benefits of  teaching  handwriting, but they also recognize its emphasis is being reduced with the increase in technology integration within the classrooms.

“Writing and reading cursive handwriting may possibly be a skill our students one day may no longer need to process,” he said.