Not far from State Sen. Jean Leising’s capitol office is a museum that prominently displays documents penned by Abraham Lincoln. It’s a favorite educational destination for Indiana schoolchildren in the state where the 16th president grew up.
Leising worries Lincoln’s elegant script might soon be indecipherable to young visitors because schools in Indiana and elsewhere are now allowed to drop cursive writing instruction under new national teaching standards crafted for the digital age.
Leising is convinced it’s a dangerous trend. To preserve penmanship, she has championed a bill to mandate cursive writing courses in all Indiana elementary schools.
“If kids aren’t taught how to write it, they won’t be able to read it,” said Leising. “So, in a sense, we’ll be creating a new kind of illiteracy.”
The use of cursive writing has been fading from society since the arrival of the computer keyboard. Advocates of longhand blame the so-called common core education standards for hastening its demise. Debate over the issue has pitted teachers against teachers, and a fear by historians we are raising a generation of handwriting illiterates.
Rolled out in 2010 by the National Governors Association and adopted by 45 states for implementation by next year, the standards set uniform expectations for what students need to learn to succeed. The standards include proficiency in computer keyboarding by the fourth grade, but make no mention of cursive writing.
That lack of mention has moved schools to abandon resources and courses once devoted to teaching penmanship — much to the dismay of those who say the curriculum change will eventually lead to an inability to comprehend handwritten documents, including identifying signatures.
Supporters of the change aren’t concerned. They say that today’s textbooks and other reading material are widely available in electronic form — on computers, tablets, e-readers and smartphones. As for signatures, they predict scanned eyeballs and fingerprints are destined to replace scribbled names.
They point to a recent poll by Xerox Mortgage Services that found by 2016 half of home loans will be closed electronically without an actual signature.
Sandra Wilde, a professor of childhood education at Hunter College in New York and a member of the National Council of Teachers of English, says cursive writing isn’t an essential skill in the digital era.
“A hundred years ago, you needed to have good penmanship to get a good job,” said Wilde. “Today, you need to know how to use technology. Cursive has fallen by the wayside with the realization that kids just don’t need to have good handwriting anymore.”
Studies show the fading interest in longhand lessons. A National Association of State Boards of Education report released last fall found the average third-grader was getting only 15 minutes of handwriting instruction a day, down from the standard 30 to 45 minutes a generation ago.