Education
2:16 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

The Writing's On The Wall For Cursive — Unless Lawmakers Can Save It

Originally published on Thu May 29, 2014 11:14 am

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

The last time you handwrote a check or a letter, did you print or use cursive? The new Common Core State Standards being implemented in classrooms across the country make no mention of cursive. Some school districts have simply stopped teaching it. Now, lawmakers in several states are fighting back, passing new state requirements that cursive be taught.

In a moment, we'll hear from NPR's new education team about the science of cursive writing. Right now, Blake Farmer, of member station WPLN in Nashville, has a report from Tennessee. It's the latest state making a push for penmanship.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Second-grade teacher Mary Horton has a little sermonette she preaches to her innercity students in Nashville.

MARY HORTON: Do you think that cursive writing is just as important as print?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Yes? Yes. No.

HORTON: OK, someone said no.

FARMER: These 7- and 8-year-olds should be forgiven for being a little confused. Even big believers in longhand, like Horton, have had to back off to spend more time on subjects that show up on standardized tests.

HORTON: I used to do handwriting five days a week for at least 30 minutes. Now, I can only do it two days.

FARMER: Some schools have dropped cursive altogether. In response, a growing number of states, from California to Massachusetts, have said: Hold on a minute, cursive is important. In Tennessee, cursive didn't go out when Common Core came in. It's never been a requirement.

SUSAN MCCRARY: Come on, you can do it.

FARMER: Susan McCrary coaches her son through the alphabet in uppercase. He's a junior in high school.

STEVEN MCCRARY: E is like that in lowercase, but that's about all I know.

FARMER: Steven McCrary says he was never taught cursive at his elementary school in Columbia, Tenn., about an hour south of Nashville. To him, the loopy letters still look like a foreign language.

STEVEN: Spanish.

(LAUGHTER)

STEVEN: Right now, I'm trying to teach myself, but it ain't working too good.

MCCRARY: And, you know, my 15-year-old and my 13-year-old doesn't know how to write cursive either. I guess they think that cursive is not important. I do.

FARMER: McCrary took the issue to her state representative. And Republican Sheila Butt took it from there. Here she is, making her case to a panel of state lawmakers.

STATE REP. SHEILA BUTT: To say that we've educated our children in Tennessee and taken away this form of instruction - this link to our heritage - out of our classrooms, is a grave disservice to the young people of this state.

FARMER: It's hard to overstate how important that heritage piece is to Butt and her fellow conservatives. The primary argument, at least in Republican-dominated Tennessee, is that students should be able to read the country's founding documents for themselves.

BUTT: And just things in our history that are very important to us - our Constitution, our Bill of Rights.

FARMER: While some lawmakers think specific curriculum decisions should be left to experts, there's been very little resistance to Butt's cursive bill.

GARY NIXON: If they ask us to do that, we certainly can do that.

FARMER: Tennessee's Board of Education hasn't championed the cause, but executive director Gary Nixon hasn't fought the cursive requirement either.

NIXON: I was surprised that systems weren't teaching cursive. You know, people think it's becoming an obsolete skill. I think it's a skill that's worthy of doing.

FARMER: Assuming the bill becomes law, it'll then be up to teachers to figure out how to squeeze cursive back in.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.