Is cursive writing history?
ELKHORN When soldiers in Napoleon’s army uncovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799, it unlocked the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Who knows, in the year 2799, there might be an archeologist who goes down in the history books as the explorer who discovered a buried Palmer Method of Handwriting textbook, unlocking the secrets of a 19th and 20th century American hieroglyph known as cursive handwriting.
(Read all of this week's stories from Walworth County Sunday HERE. )
Cursive handwriting is any style of penmanship in which the symbols of the language are written in a conjoined and/or flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing faster.
But some of today’s education experts believe cursive writing is a waste of time in a digitized society where even personal signatures are now accepted electronically.
The Palmer Method of penmanship instruction was developed and promoted by Austin Palmer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It soon became the most popular handwriting system in the United States.
“When I taught school, penmanship was very important,” said Doris Reinke, a retired teacher in Elkhorn. “We practiced loops and shoved the pen up and down so we had nice sloping straight lines in our writing.”
Reinke, 91, taught kindergarten and second grade for 41 years in Elkhorn, from 1943 to 1984.
“Even back in college you had to take a class on how to teach it, and the teacher was very strict and you had to rewrite lots of things,” said Judy Snyder, 70, who taught elementary school in Janesville from 1962 to 2000, mostly at Jefferson Elementary School.
“In the last 10 years I taught, we thought it was important to bring back cursive writing, but now they’ve changed their minds again,” Reinke said.
Reinke joked that the day might come when the knowledge of and ability to read cursive writing will be a marketable skill reserved for a select few among museum curators. And museums may well be the only place in generations to come that samples of cursive handwriting can be viewed.
“There was a time, of course, when books were all copied by hand by the monks in the monasteries and nobody was able to read or write unless you were very, very important,” Reinke said. “I can remember using an ink pen and blotter; those are experiences you don’t get anymore.”
Some educators believe the skill of cursive writing is still necessary, so students can hone their fine motor skills, reinforce literacy and develop their own personal identity.
“I think people need to be able to sign their name in cursive writing and I think people should be able to read cursive,” Snyder said. “I think some of our young educators are coming out not seeing the value of cursive writing.”
In 2008, a nationwide survey found that only 12 percent of elementary school teachers had taken a course in how to teach cursive handwriting.
The debate among educators over cursive handwriting comes at a time when more than 40 states already have moved toward adopting national curriculum guidelines for 2014 -- for English and math -- that do not include cursive handwriting, but instead require proficiency in computer keyboarding before completion of elementary school.
Several states have decided to add a cursive requirement to their standards, while other states, including Wisconsin, have left cursive writing education as optional.