Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Is this the end of cursive writing?

In today's schools, the keyboard is king.
But studies suggests that penmanship still matters.

Second-grade teacher Diane Arciero waves her hand – draped in a homemade, white bunny puppet – from side to side in time to "If You're Happy and You Know It" playing on her classroom's CD player.

As the song reaches its familiar refrain, the 24 students in her class at Boston's Hugh R. O'Donnell Elementary School join in singing with her and the bunny: "Where do you start your letter? At the top!" they shout, pointing index fingers in the air in unison.

It's hardly the handwriting instruction most American adults grew up with, but cursive traditionalists are happy to see any type of instruction. Their revered written art is an endangered species given the rise of computers, the growing proportion of class time spent preparing for standardized tests, and the increasing perception that cursive writing is a difficult and pointless exercise. Yet new evidence suggests there are benefits to mastering this skill – including higher SAT scores – that don't appear until long after traditional instruction ends in fifth grade. It's a controversial claim.

Cursive's proponents point to less-practical benefits as well. The romantic allure, for one. "When you look in Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, you don't see printed invitations," says Janie Cravens, who taught for 25 years in Alabama and Georgia. "Despite what many people seem to think these days, there's still demand for calligraphers and people who can write in cursive beautifully." She is vice president of the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting based in Webster, N.Y.

"You still need to be able to write a signature and a personal thank-you note as well as read cursive," says Cathy Van Haute, a pediatric occupational consultant. And "you can't tell me everyone has easy access to a computer."

Robert Martin, principal of O'Donnell Elementary, agrees. "It's a dangerous path to go down if the only way you can communicate or record information is electronically or with printed letters. Cursive teaches things like how letters connect and a different type of hand-eye coordination that's important."

Cursive enthusiasts also point to recent College Board data on the new writing section of the SATs, introduced in 2006. The data indicate that the 15 percent of students who wrote their essay in cursive did slightly better than those who used some other type of handwriting. Cursive proponents say this is because those writing in cursive could write faster, allowing them to write longer essays.

Steve Graham is skeptical of such a conclusion. The special education professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., says "It's like saying there's been a rise in peanut butter sales in New York and a rise in mental illness, therefore peanut butter causes mental illness," he says....

This from the Christian Science Monitor.

Photo by Erin Brethauer/Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times/AP

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