Perfect Penmanship

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DESPITE THE RISE OF COMPUTERS, CURSIVE HAS ITS PLACE IN THE CLASSROOM.

Communicating with a far-off friend? Send an email. Writing a term paper or a report? Crack open the laptop. Paying bills? Log onto the internet.

Today, thanks to the development of modern technology, there are few opportunities for Americans to put pen to paper. And when they do, it’s likely most — especially those in younger generations — will write in print, not cursive letters. Schools are following the trend, adjusting curriculums to focus more on computers and less on penmanship. And as teachers are being asked to do more with less and as school funding becomes more dependent on students’ testing scores, many educators find themselves wondering: Does cursive still have a place in the classroom?

While Common Core curriculums no longer require cursive, some states still value it. In 2014, South Carolina passed the Back to Basics in Education Act requiring cursive writing training in public schools. While the law doesn’t dictate how districts must teach the skill, it does require that students demonstrate competence in it by the fifth grade. In Beaufort County, that means cursive is a regular part of classroom activities.

“District schools do teach cursive writing, but not as a separate and distinct course of study,” said James Foster, communications director for the Beaufort County School District. “In other words, kids don’t ‘take’ cursive writing. It’s embedded in their regular instruction in elementary school.”

Many of the state’s private schools — including those in the Lowcountry — also still teach cursive, in part for its effects on students’ development.

"Cursive is still very much a part of the curriculum at Hilton Head Christian,” said Hilton Head Christian Academy’s Melanie, Hilton, principal of the lower school. “It’s not simply an alternative writing style to print; learning cursive utilizes left- and right-brain skills that are critical in other areas of education and development far beyond cursive."

Scientists agree. According to a recent study published in Psychology Today, learning to write in cursive is an important part of cognitive development. Learning cursive trains the brain to learn “functional specialization,” essentially our minds’ ability to multitask. For example, when students learn to read and write in cursive through constant practice, they are learning to integrate fine motor skills — the act of writing — with visual and tactile processing abilities. Practicing cursive becomes a multi-sensory experience that helps with cognitive function.

There also is some evidence, doctors say, that learning to write in cursive can help ease some of the symptoms of dyslexia because students must concentrate on communication between the language centers of the brain and the tactile effort of writing with our hands — which in itself is associated with improving memory.

And while it’s important for today’s students to be computer literate, supporters say, it’s also important that they can communicate and read in a variety of media — for example, if students aren’t taught to read and write cursive, they may not be able to decipher historical records or professional papers as adults.

While scientists still are researching the benefits of cursive, it’s clear the art form is far from dead. The popularity of writing styles like calligraphy is booming, and Pinterest boards and art classes are filled with tutorials on hand-lettering and decorative writing styles. If South Carolina schools have anything to say about it, students will continue writing in high style.