Meridian Star

April 7, 2013

City, county classrooms continue to teach penmanship

By Ida Brown / ibrown@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     The pen now has an even mightier opponent than the sword: digital keyboarding.

    While instruction in penmanship, particularly cursive writing, has not been expelled from Meridian and Lauderdale County classrooms, some local educators are concerned that it is a dying art whose time is nearly up and ready to be taken over by the electronic world.

    "Five or six years ago I became real concerned when I'd go into the classrooms and see the lack of penmanship," said Lauderdale County Superintendent Randy Hodges.

    "And we're seeing some very negative situations with it, so much so that I've tried to do a few things throughout the years. But we're at a point now where we've got to stop and take a good look at it, because we're getting further and further away from proper and good penmanship," Hodges said.

    Under the Common Core State Standards Initiative adopted by most states, including Mississippi, the teaching of cursive handwriting is not mandated but it is taught in the state's schools. However, with the push for more technology in schools, the emphasis is more on keyboarding.

    "Children are expected to be able to type and be more proficient with the keyboard by fourth grade," said Teri Edwards, K4 curriculum director and district test coordinator for Lauderdale County Public School District.

    Students in city and county schools begin learning handwriting (forming letters) in kindergarten, and by the end of second grade begin to work on cursive writing skills. Because local schools are more self contained, teachers have more time throughout the school day to devote to instruction in handwriting.

    Technology aside, many of today's students prefer printing over cursive writing because it is quicker.

    "As a classroom teacher, my students preferred to print in some instances," said Robin Miles, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Meridian Public School District. "But that was a personal preference, not something that we dictated."

    And from a technology standpoint, not only is keyboarding quicker, but also easier.

    "In terms of the craft of writing, not the actual penmanship, but when you're actually sitting down to compose something, it's so much easier to do that with a word processing tool because you can revise and it will help you pick up those errors," Miles said.

    With the move to Common Core, many classroom assessments will be done online and through a computer-based model.

    "That may have an impact in the change, as far as cursive writing. But we do still teach penmanship – manuscript and cursive writing," Miles said.    Nonetheless, Edwards said it is still important for children to know how to sign their names – which is done in cursive writing.

    "Many people will say that cursive writing is a dying art form, but we do still see the importance of kids being able to sign their names and being able to read birthday cards that were written by their grandparents," Edwards said. "And they do have to sign their checks."

    More importantly, most of our nation's early documents were written in pen and ink. And if you can't understand cursive writing ...

    "You really can't appreciate something written by people such as our first president George Washington," Edwards said. "I do think that it is important for kids to have that knowledge of cursive writing and know how to read it – even if their preference is to write in print."