Cursive retains place in Lee County curriculum

Local students will continue to learn writing technique
Feb. 12, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

The writing is on the wall for cursive across the country, but elementary school students in Lee County will nevertheless continue to learn how to make those loopy ABCs.

With the handwriting technique dropped from the official curriculum in the new Common Core standards that 45 states — including North Carolina — have recently adopted, many school districts are moving away from teaching the script that has been used to write everything from the U.S. Constitution to the Gettysburg Address, generational family recipes and more. But according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the majority of North Carolina school districts are no longer teaching it.

Lee County, however, isn't one of them.

"It's a skill, maybe an art, but I think it's something children need exposure to," said Carol Chappell, the district's director of K-5 instruction. "You need to be able to read it because it will still be around, and it's hard to read it if you never learned it."

Chappell said she herself writes mainly in print-style manuscript with some elements of cursive thrown in, and that she thinks that that's probably how most people write. But she said students should at least be able to read cursive, if not write it perfectly, which is shown by the fact that the district won't require students to write in cursive after third grade, when it's taught.

"When I was in school, cursive writing was stressed certainly more than it is now," she said. "And even then, a lot of people went back to manuscript or a combination, whatever was more comfortable for them."

Stephanie Needham, a third-grade teacher at B.T. Bullock Elementary School, said studies have found cursive is helpful for people who have to take lots of notes, like students, because it can be written faster.

Plus, she said, she writes in cursive, so her students must be able to read it — otherwise they wouldn't be able to read her notes on their work and on the board — even if they aren't expected to become paragons of penmanship.

"The kids need to be exposed to it," she said. "They need to know the function of it, how to form the letters, but they don't need to write in it."

Needham said that since teaching cursive doesn't take that much time, there's really no reason to abandon it even if the world is becoming more reliant on emails, texting and other non-hand-written communication.

"We had an assignment where you bring things in from home that mean a lot to you, and I had one student bring in a letter from their grandmother that was written in cursive," she said.

Each school also has its own typing program, Chappell said, and most start in second or third grade with the basics, getting more intensive in fourth and fifth grade when students' hands become bigger and they develop more dexterity. She said a typing class she took in high school was one of the most useful classes she ever had, so she definitely supports typing instruction. But as long as she's in charge in Lee County, she plans to keep requiring cursive even if no one else does.

Lynn Smith, chairman of the Lee County School Board, said he will defer to Chappell's wishes to keep teaching cursive as long as the district is also moving toward preparing students for the digital age, which he said he thinks schools are doing well. It also appears that cursive hasn't fallen out of favor as much locally as it has in other parts of the state and country.

Chappell said several parents contacted her to make sure that schools will continue teaching cursive, but no one has called asking the schools to stop teaching it. And although a recent poll by education company Scholastic found that more than three-fourths of 3,900 students interviewed didn't think cursive was important, Needham said her students generally hold the minority opinion.

"They love it," she said. "We're telling them that we're getting them college ready, and plus they think the're all grown up because they can write fancy."