Cursive writing becomes mandatory part of Arkansas curriculum

When it comes to written communications, before the advent of smartphones, texting and computers, cursive was the way to go. Examples of cursive writing date back to the time of the Romans, but like Latin, cursive writing appeared to be a dying form of communication.

With people typing more rather than writing, cursive has been falling by the wayside. Many schools even stopped teaching children cursive writing, and the Common Core Standards do not include the subject. It's been no different in Arkansas as schools dropped it as part of their curriculum.

Until now.

Thanks to state Rep. Kim Hendren and the Legislature, teaching cursive writing in Arkansas schools will be mandatory beginning next school year. Act 160 of 2015 requires that students be taught cursive writing by the end of third grade.

Betsy Henry — a third-grade teacher at Amanda Gist Elementary in Cotter, who has taught cursive writing for 25 years — says she thinks it's a good idea, and just because it's not included in Common Core, "doesn't mean it's not important."

Family inspires law

Hendren, a Republican from Gravette, said the inspiration to introduce the measure came from his granddaughter and wife. He told The Bulletin his granddaughter is an eighth-grader in Gravette who takes part in many school activities. However, her grandmother learned "she didn't know how to sign her name in cursive."

He said that's when they learned cursive was not being taught at Gravette because of Common Core. Other schools across Arkansas also dropped cursive after the state adopted the Common Core Standards.

The veteran lawmaker said cursive writing is part of a well-rounded education, and believes that even with technology, "we need to keep our roots in mind."

Hendren's bill created debate among legislators. Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, contended there's not much use for cursive writing any more because "almost everything is electronic." Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, supported the idea of teaching cursive, but thought it was more of an action for the Education Department than the Legislature.

When the measure came up for a vote in the House, Mountain Home's Nelda Speaks, a Republican, and Democrat Scott Baltz of Pocahontas voted for it. Rep. Kelley Linck of Flippin and John Payton of Wilburn, both Republicans, voted against it.

In the Senate, Sens. Scott Flippo of Bull Shoals and Missy Irvin of Mountain View supported it.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the cursive bill into law in late February. Earlier in the legislative session, he signed a bill requiring computer science be taught in high schools. He called the two acts "a great balance."

"I don't think it is inconsistent in my view or inconsistent in practice," Hutchinson said. "I work on my computer, but there is nothing more significant than being able to write a handwritten personal note to a friend or colleague."

Making connections

Henry said learning cursive writing is good for children, and they're eager to learn it. "Kids look forward to writing cursive from the time they first see it, when their grandmas and their grandpas sign their Valentine cards and their birthday cards," she said.

"They see it, and they wonder what it is, and so they think, 'Well, someday I'm going to get to learn what this is.' So, they look forward to it."

"It's important for that same reason that they be able to connect with older generations," Henry added, "like their grandparents, again, because they write little notes in there and they don't want somebody to have to interpret what it says."

Some of her students echo that sentiment.

"I really like cursive," Brooks Cheek said. "I like pretty handwriting, I've always liked that. I also like writing cursive, because it makes me feel like I'm growing up, because that's how adults write."

Calli Dilbeck said, "I like cursive because it's a lot faster and really easy, and it makes you understand reading cursive more. There are things you need to read in cursive."

Plus, Dilbeck had another reason for students to learn cursive: "When they get into college, they have to do their signature a lot."

"I know it was not included in the Common Core Standards, but just because it's not included doesn't mean it's not important," Henry said. "And cursive is important to learn."

Like other supporters of cursive, Henry says it helps students with learning issues. "It helps kids with dyslexia. It's like a tool for them to use. It straightens out a 'b' and a 'd,' it straightens out a 'p' and a 'q.' "

And like other proponents, Henry said, "It's important to be able to read old documents in their original forms.

"It's important to carry on traditions, too, and cursive writing is a tradition."

Mixed public views

Among the public, there are mixed reactions to the legislation and requiring cursive writing be taught.

"In my opinion, we are trying to 'dummy down' our children instead of educating them. This is coming from a retired educator," said Marsha Barker, formerly of Mountain Home. "Our students need to have an equal opportunity to compete in today's business world. Being able to correctly fill out a job application, sign their name — in cursive — and to be able to read and understand what they are signing is crucial."

"While I think penmanship is an important aspect of learning, I think that there are far more important things the Legislature should have been concerned with regarding education in our state," said Heather Graham of Mountain Home.

"In addition to the eye-hand coordination that it takes to create the flowing words, it also is good for the mind," said Candy Barnes of Mountain Home. "Each of the activities that a child's mind masters increases the connectedness of the brain. Being able to see words as units instead of bits, being able to create a handwriting style that is personal, and having the ability to think of language from more than one point of view, are skills that every child needs."

"Everyone needs to be taught to type. Cursive will go the way of the buggy whip and it is now a waste of time," said Jim Smith of Mountain Home. "If signing your name is important to you, learn that. I am so glad I learned to type when in junior high school. I print everything that I don't type."

"I think the thing that bothers me most about children not being taught cursive writing is that they wouldn't be able to read handwriting of their ancestors," said Debbie Barron of Marshal. "Some of my most prized possessions are some of the handwritten items I have that belonged to my grandparents and parents and others. Somehow cursive writing just has so much more personality than printed writing does."

"Teach them," said Jill Chandler of Mountain Home. "Then, when they're older, they can decide how they want to write. Give them all the opportunity to learn it."

"It helps to develop self-esteem and improvement of life. My first- and second-grade teacher stressed it as important as math and reading," said Tommy Dean Johnson of Bruno. "My handwriting has been complimented on over the years, and I always gave credit to Miss Faye for that."

"I can't agree with the majority here. My oldest son has a condition called Convergence, which made it virtually impossible for him to learn cursive," said Bonnie Dillard of Yellville. "He struggled just to learn to write in block letters and, as an adult, still has to sign his name by printing it. If there are no exceptions in the law for this, a child who has the same difficulty or another learning disability could flunk school just because of this."

"I am torn on this," said Martin Kellem of Mountain Home. "I think it should be taught, and then again, it seems to be a lot of wasted energy for little results. It's like teaching kids Morse Code. Yeah, it takes up a bit of time and some of the kids like it, but is it going to be used as a form of communication by future generations?"

Pam Stoker of Thornfield, Mo., had a different take on it: "One day there will be a big computer crash, then what? Kids can't do anything without a computer. They must have some backup."

Making change and balancing checkbooks

Cursive writing isn't the only thing Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, thinks is needed in Arkansas schools.

He introduced House Bill 1226 which would require that students, at some point during their public education, be taught as a part of math education — and demonstrate — how to make change. That measure is scheduled to come before the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

Hendren said a colleague, Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh, R-Van Buren, has filed a bill to allow high school students to take alternative courses to higher algebra and calculus. An engineer himself, Hendren said those classes may be suited for some students, but there also are students graduating who don't know how to make change, how to reconcile a checkbook, or how to figure compound interest.

He said students should be offered alternatives to "exotic" math courses for something more practical for them.


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