It won’t be mandatory, but all Ohio students may now have the opportunity learn cursive writing, a method some state legislators and educators argue is woefully out of date.
The Ohio Senate voted last Thursday to pass Ohio House Bill 58, which instructs the state’s Board of Education to develop and adopt a cursive writing program by Dec. 31. Under the bill, students should learn to legibly print words and letters by third grade and legible cursive handwriting by the end of fifth grade.
Passed by the state Senate on June 20, the bill makes a cursive writing curriculum optional, but available to all of Ohio’s 611 school districts. Changes to the bill, which include adding it to schools’ English/language arts curricula, must be approved by the House before the bill is sent to Gov. John Kasich’s desk.
District 67 Representative Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) co-sponsored the bill with District 41 Representative Marilyn Slaby (R-Copley). Brenner said they originally sought a state mandate on cursive writing, but legislators argued that local school districts should retain control of their curricula. The current bill offers cursive writing to Ohio school districts as an elective.
“I believe it is a good bill. If it weren’t to pass, I’d plan to reintroduce it in the Senate,” he said.
Brenner has pushed the bill due to studies indicating that cursive writing aids in students’ brain development and hand dexterity. He said it also gives them the ability to read prominent historical texts, which he believes is important to their education.
“You can learn the founding documents from reading them directly,” he said.
District 56 State Representative Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) voted against the bill, saying Ohio’s schools should concentrate on teaching students skills they need now and will need as working adults.
“I want to make sure we’re not overemphasizing cursive as a modern skill because it doesn’t seem necessary as a tool to perform in our modern society or our modern economy,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re teaching skills the students are going to need in a digitized world – things that are more important.”
Ramos said he has nothing against cursive writing, but sees it as more an artistic form of expression than a standard writing method. He said it won’t be a necessary skill in the future careers of today’s students, and shouldn’t be given equal consideration.
“Frankly, it’s an archaic form of writing. People seem to believe that if you want to be serious in business or government you bring something that is typed,” Ramos said.
Jadea Wixom and Jodi Yeager, third grade teachers for Pettisville Local Schools, teach cursive and think it’s a necessary skill.
“Cursive is an important thing to be able to learn to do, and to read,” Wixom said. “When kids get in high school and can’t read cursive, that’s a form of illiteracy.”
An educator for 21 years, she has always taught cursive. She agrees with Brenner that the ability to read such things as historical documents written in cursive is essential to a student’s education. “And we want them to be able to sign their names as well,” she said.
In her classroom, cursive is taught during the second half of the school year, and students’ names are written in cursive on name tags. They write both printed and cursive versions of words on spelling tests but get graded only on the printed version.
“It’s just basically learning how to write it, how to form it,” Wixom said. “It amazes me how some kids who struggle in printing do better in cursive. It’s always remarkable. It’s neater and easier to read, and the spacing is better.”
And while cursive is not a graded subject, her students enjoy the lessons. “It’s pretty much the same every year. They get very excited about being able to write their names and other things in cursive,” she said.
Wixom said the school district’s fifth and sixth grade language arts teachers also have their students practice cursive.
“It has become a lost art,” she said. “Overall, most people do not see the value in making students do it. I don’t know that requiring students to write essay content in cursive is necessary; I don’t know that teachers do that any longer. (But) if the kids are never taught how to read it or write it, it becomes problematic as an adult,” she said.
Third grade teachers at Wauseon Elementary School teach and give assignments in cursive, but it’s not a standard writing form in any grade level, Principal Theresa Vietmeier said. She said fourth and fifth grade students can choose to continue using cursive, but many revert back to the printed word.
Vietmeier declined to offer an opinion on cursive writing, but said it can be important for deciphering and understanding written communication. And she said students should learn to sign their name.
However, “With the technology explosion they also have to learn to navigate a keyboard. That’s also an important form of communication in today’s culture,” she said.
Swanton Local Schools Superintendent Chris Lake said cursive handwriting “has clearly gone out of fashion over the years. Now that we all type the majority of our communications it does seem to be silly that we want kids to know how to write in cursive.”
Lake believes children should know the basics of cursive, “but the idea that kids should be writing in cursive again seems pretty outdated.“
Kirk Keiser, Fayette’s school board president, said although the board has only generally discussed cursive writing, and has taken no action to restore it in the classroom, he thinks learning the method is important.
“Mainly, because, historically, there are a lot of documents written in cursive,” he said. “It’s important that people be able to read them. It’s important to not get disconnected with our history. We’re really involved in the moment today, which is fine, but a lot of people don’t understand where we came from and how we arrived where we are – the sacrifices people have made.”
The school board members agree cursive writing is useful, Keiser said. And while there hasn’t been a concerted effort to restore it, “I don’t see a resistance in bringing it back,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.