Cursive handwriting falling by wayside, educator says

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A recent Washington Post story noted the increasing disappearance of cursive writing as schools spend less time teaching handwriting skills. A University of North Texas educator says computers and educational testing requirements have contributed to the depletion of handwriting skills.

Dr. Francis van Tassell, an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Administration in UNT's College of Education, says so much emphasis has been placed on testing and accountability in schools "that anything in the curriculum that can be shortened or eliminated is often taken away."

"Since most high school and college work is required to be submitted in word-processed form, it appears that schools are taking the approach that learning to write in cursive is not necessary," she says.

Van Tassell says she is saddened to think about losing "the skills and beauty of writing in cursive."

"Letters are priceless records that you can hold on to forever. If we stop doing that, especially as we move more to text messaging and instant messaging, we may lose the beauty of our language," she says. "I believe that we should give people choices. If we do not teach the skills of cursive writing, we are taking away that option for effective written communication."

Still, the move towards computer-printed material has its advantages, she says. Doctors can type prescriptions, avoiding pharmacists' errors in deciphering handwriting. At the same time, physicians who do not have the technology to type prescriptions need the skills of cursive writing, she says.

Also, teachers report that many students have no access to computers at home, and they need the skills of hand-written communication, she says. Standardized tests are often misinterpreted due to poorly written essay responses, she says.

At UNT, van Tassell is the lead adviser for one of the post-baccalaureate initial certification programs and serves as assistant to the graduate program coordinator of curriculum and instruction. She teaches language arts methods classes, in which aspiring teachers learn how to teach D'Nealian and Zaner-Bloser styles of handwriting. She estimates that she spends half as much time teaching handwriting skills as she did 10 years ago. Her students who enter the classroom to teach have noticed the same pattern - they're spending less and less time teaching their students how to write longhand, whether cursive or manuscript.

Van Tassell notes that the lack of handwriting skills might lead to a new kind of cursive illiteracy. "If we stop teaching children how to write it," she says, "how can they read it?"

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108