I've actually witnessed some kids today that don't know how to write in cursive or know how to read it....let alone know what an analog clock is. How are they gonna be able to sign legal documents....etc. if some schools aren't even bothering with teaching it at all??
With eyebrows furrowed and fingers holding pencils with claw-like grips, third graders at Lowell Elementary School in Mesa were tackling an assignment involving one of the most controversial topics in American education: cursive writing.
Minutes ticked by and most of the students, nine-year-olds in teacher Brittney Chapman's class last spring had only formed a few words or a single sentence on a lined worksheet.
"It's hard because you have to keep the pen down and connect the letters," said Luis Carlos Miranda, who Chapman described as one of the better writers in her class of 23.
Another student, Angel Guerra, said he thinks cursive is important because "there is a lot more writing in life than there is typing."
Lowell students are the poorest in Mesa Public Schools and many students do not have access to computers outside of school.
Chapman frequently requires her students to write in cursive. They also need to know how to read her cursive writing on a white board to understand their daily homework assignment.
But many teachers nationwide no longer teach students the curlicue script that older generations once viewed as the hallmark of a well-educated person.
The Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, which are based on the Common Core State Standards Initiative, do not mandate that students learn cursive. Nor did Arizona's previous standards — those that AIMS is based on — or the standards of most of the other states that have new standards based on the Common Core.
The standards require that students master keyboarding and a form of handwriting — that can be print or cursive, said Kathryn Hrabluk, associate superintendent for the Arizona Department of Education.
The standards also require that teachers show students how to organize concepts, choose the right words and write correctly spelled words and grammatical sentences.
"The goal is to have students be able to successfully articulate their thoughts, learning and ideas so others can clearly understand," Hrabluk said.
California, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, are among the states that are either debating or have recently mandated that cursive be brought back to the classroom.
Arizona has not joined the debate, possibly because many schools here still teach cursive despite the lack of a state requirement.
An informal survey of Valley districts showed that most still require teachers to devote at least a small amount of time to cursive.
"Kids love to learn how to write in cursive," said Suzan DePrez, Mesa schools assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
"It is a sort of rite of passage. I think there is artistic value in cursive ... also knowing how to read communication in cursive is something we should be able to do."
Officials in other districts said that they also require students to learn cursive, but several teachers were not confident enough in their students' mastery of cursive to allow an Arizona Republic reporter into their classrooms to observe.
A few said informally they don't spend much time teaching cursive because they know their students will enter a world where keyboarding is a more important skill.
"Are you expected to publish your stories in cursive handwriting?" DePrez asked aRepublic reporter, rhetorically. "The real question is when beyond elementary school is one expected or asked to produce in cursive writing?"
Cursive advocates say that question misses the point.
Conservative radio personality Glenn Beck argues that people must be able to at least read cursive if they want to appreciate America's Declaration of Independence and other hand-written historical documents.
Beck is also a Common Core critic who believes the standards "dumb down" school curricula.
"Why are they no longer teacher cursive writing?" he asked in one broadcast.
"The easiest way to make someone a slave is to dumb them down. They don't teach them how to read and write."
Some academic researchers advocate teaching cursive to students in the first three years of elementary school, saying research shows cursive helps brain development.
A year ago, Psychology Today published an article by Texas A&M University neuroscientist William Klemm that argues that cursive makes kids smarter.
"Cursive writing, compared to printing, is even more beneficial because the movement tasks are more demanding, the letters are less stereotypical, and the visual-recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation," he wrote.
Around the same time, the National Association of State Boards of Education issued a report stating that cursive helps develop memory, fine motor skills and better expression.
But an Arizona State University educational leadership professor considered one of the nation's experts in how children learn handwriting says schools no longer need to teach cursive.
"Cursive handwriting does not make people more intelligent," Steve Graham said. "That is the kind of stuff that floats around but has no basis scientifically."
Graham said before computers were commonplace, adults valued cursive because they could write it faster than they could print. Today, e-mails, text messages and documents created in systems like Microsoft Word take the place of handwritten pages, he said.
Printed signatures are acceptable today, as are electronic signatures, he said. A scrawling John Hancock is no longer needed in today's world.
Graham noted that it is still important for children to learn to print clearly, because even at the high school level only about half of students' work is typed. Fast, accurate keyboarding skills also are important, he said.
"If a student has to constantly think about where the key is, that is going to have an impact on their ability to write well," he said.
Graham said far more important than whether students are printing or writing in cursive is that they are being given assignments that encourage them to write well-thought-out sentences and paragraphs. Far too often, he said, kids are simply asked to fill in the blanks on worksheets.