RACINE COUNTY — If you can’t remember the last time you handwrote a letter instead of sending an email, you’re not alone.
And schools are taking note.
As we use typed communication over the handwritten word more and more, schools are questioning if it’s worthwhile to keep teaching cursive writing.
Cursive is typically taught after students learn printing, during time some say could be better spent on reading and math; those subjects are judged on standardized tests while handwriting is not. Add to that the fact new Common Core State Standards for education eliminate cursive from the curriculum, and cursive’s fate seems sealed.
A number of school systems nationwide are cutting out cursive, according to K-12 handwriting instruction expert Steve Graham. But Racine County schools are not among those dropping the flowing writing form. Taking into account technology and time, local educators have chosen to keep cursive in the classroom.
“Our philosophy is this: Even with the oncoming level of technology that children and adults are using, handwriting still has a basic place in the way humans communicate with one another,” said Diana Lesnjak, principal of Racine’s St. Rita School, 4433 Douglas Ave.
Lesnjak and other educators said cursive is important for signature lines, checks, the backs of postcards and even jotting down notes because cursive is harder to copy and faster to get down on paper — there’s no lifting of the pen.
Cursive also can be easier than printing for some students and gets kids excited about learning “grown-up” writing, according to third-grade teacher Betty Wieczorek, of Waterford’s St. Thomas Aquinas Parish School, 302 S. Second St.
Plus, having nice, legible writing — particularly cursive — makes people think an individual is smarter. A recent study shows the grade a student receives on a paper can be higher if the handwriting is better and lower if the writing is worse, even if the actual words are exactly the same, said Graham, an education professor at Vanderbilt University who has authored studies on handwriting instruction.
“People do form judgments about the quality of your ideas based on the legibility of the writing,” Graham said.
Unfortunately there’s not always enough time in the school day to really perfect cursive handwriting, said Linda Diaz, a fourth-grade teacher at Racine Unified’s Janes Elementary School, 1425 N. Wisconsin St. Racine Unified, like St. Rita’s and St. Thomas Aquinas, starts cursive in second grade and encourages practice in the older grades. St. Thomas’ Wieczorek said she has the time for cursive practice but Unified’s Diaz said it’s a struggle.
“It’s so difficult to fit it in our busy day. The emphasis is on reading and math because that’s where our (test) scores need to show some improvement and things like cursive writing take the hit,” Diaz said. “We try to pack in so much that students don’t get the time to neaten up (letters) and form quality penmanship.”
Then by high school the emphasis on cursive goes way down, said Justin Marcinkus, teacher and English Department chairman at Horlick High School, 2119 Rapids Drive.
“When the students turn in work, so long as I can read what they’re saying is all that matters to me,” Marcinkus said. “And of course a lot of our work does come in typed.”
Such typewritten work is becoming more and more common in everyday life and in school work, and the typed letters are more similar to printing than cursive. That’s why Graham said he’d pick printing over cursive if schools could only teach one.
Diaz said she’d prefer if cursive stays, but she’s not sure its erasure would truly be a loss.
“Kids will be emailing. They’re texting. They’re communicating via these electronic ways. If truth be known, when I think about myself and how little I write by hand, it’s amazing,” she said. “The art of cursive probably is disappearing but the art of communication is branching out in far-reaching places.”