CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - The loops, the curlicues, the connected letters: the art of cursive writing, once practiced with pride in classrooms across America. But now?
"I would say it's there, but it's not a priority any more," said Julie Legg, Director of Literacy in Hamilton County elementary schools.
Legg is responsible for making sure today's students learn the skills needed to excel on standardized tests, like TCAP. She says cursive writing is not among those skills, nor will it be in the future.
"The trend now is technology, and texting and emailing," Legg said. "That's where kids spend more of their time than they do with pencil and paper." She added, "I don't think it will ever be in a job description that you'll have to write cursive. That's in the past for us, and really this has been going on for years now."
TEACHERS LEARN TO ADAPT
Big Ridge Elementary fourth grade teacher Ouida Bianco is having to adapt her style of teaching, along with many of her peers.
The 28-year classroom veteran has taught her students well, consistently scoring among the top schools in the county. But when it comes to cursive writing, there are not enough hours in the school day.
"I hate to see it fade away, but I understand why they're doing it," she said. "It's not a deal-breaker for me. We have so many standards that are considered much more important than cursive right now."
Mrs. Bianco's fourth graders reacted to the topic of cursive writing with a mixture of interest, amusement, and mild contempt. Kody Hawley said if he becomes famous, he'll sign autographs by using his initials.
"It just confuses me, I can't connect letters, and I just never understand how to write cursive," he said.
Classmate Steven Dohrn complained.
"It takes a lot of practice to do, and yes it is boring," he said.
Others said they practice signing their names at home, but admit they struggle when trying to read other people's cursive writing. What was once a third grade requirement is now a fourth grade afterthought.
Mrs. Bianco said, "After our tests are over, I want to work with them on their cursive. But up until test time, we don't have any extra opportunities to teach items that are not in the curriculum."
"I LOVE THE WRITTEN WORD"
The idea that cursive is not a real life skill is one that saddens Linda Harris.
"It breaks my heart to hear that," she said. "I love the written word, I think it's pretty."
Harris is a retired teacher who says good handwriting runs in her family. After getting many compliments on her own writing, she took up calligraphy as a hobby. She compares it to other forms of art, and questions the wisdom of eliminating it as a learning tool.
"I think hand-eye coordination is great, and handwriting has a lot to do with how well you do other things," she said. "Teachers have always told me that children who take pride in their handwriting seem to do well in other areas too. Some children really need help with their motor skills, and cursive writing is a wonderful way to do it."
She has framed handwritten cards and notes from her grandparents on her wall.
"Look at these," she says. "Don't you love getting a personal, handwritten note in the mail? Isn't that better than an e-mail or a text? But who will even know how to do this in a few years?"
PARENTS CAN HELP
Does cursive writing have to disappear completely? Not according to some teachers, who say parents are perfectly welcome to keep the tradition alive at home. Otherwise, how will these kids read that birthday note from Grandma, or respond to a hand-written invitation?
Educators say much of the burden of teaching cursive writing will fall to parents. They say parents increasingly are responsible for teaching life skills that are not covered in today's test-focused school environment. Standard classroom instruction doesn't involve wood-working, tax preparation, or cooking, they say, and cursive writing has now been added to the list.
Mrs. Bianco said, "I welcome parental help. I think any help at home would be great. Parents, we say go for it; go for it."
Mrs. Harris concluded, "I just think kids enjoy it. From my experience, if it's anything artistic at school, children like it. And you know, what's 30 minutes a day to practice and learn writing? There's nothing wrong with that."
NOT REQUIRED, BUT NOT PROHIBITED
The news isn't all bad for cursive fans. Some states are trying to keep it alive: Georgia is among three states still mandating cursive instruction, for now anyway. The soon-to-be implemented Common Core national standards do not require cursive writing, nor do they prohibit teaching it. The trick, according to teachers, is finding time to do it.
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