Attention, students: Cursive writing could become requirement in public schools _lowres

A student types on a laptop after finishing a cursive lesson in Gen Bentley's third-grade class at Bannockburn Elementary School, September 23, 2011. The students learn both cursive handwriting and typing. (Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Entering a national debate, freshman Louisiana Sen. Beth Mizell wants to require public schools to teach cursive writing, starting in August.

“I have people who tell me they got a thank-you note and cannot read it,” said Mizell, a Franklinton Republican.

“It just struck me more and more: Why would we shortchange our children of something that is an identity forever?” she said.

The measure, Senate Bill 275, is awaiting action in the state Senate Education Committee.

Similar bills are pending in 11 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Six states already have cursive writing laws on the books, and teaching it is required in Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

How common such lessons are in Louisiana is unclear because the state Department of Education does not keep tabs on the optional skill.

The top-rated Zachary school district does not routinely teach cursive penmanship because of time demands.

“How do you get the typing, the printing and the cursive all done at the same time when you are also teaching them how to read?” asked Zachary Superintendent Scott Devillier.

It is taught in the St. Bernard Parish school district.

“We are still a pretty conservative community,” St. Bernard Superintendent Doris Voitier said. “And we still encourage kids to hopefully write letters and things like that.”

Cursive writing — also known as script — was routinely taught in public schools for years. But the explosion of computers and new demands on daily classroom schedules have made it an endangered species for many 21st century students.

“It is considered an outdated mode of communications,” Mizell conceded.

The senator said what got her attention was when a land surveyor in Tangipahoa Parish told her he was having trouble hiring young workers because they could not read the notes on old surveys.

Business owners have told her job hopefuls cannot sign their names on applications.

“Think about how many of the young people are so driven by having a unique identity,” Mizell said.

“When you think about it, there is nothing more unique than your signature,” she added. “This is such an opportunity to have an individual statement, how we sign our name.”

Cursive writing is taught in the Central school district.

“It is not required, but it is part of our program,” said Central Superintendent Michael Faulk. “At some point, they are going to have to write.”

The mandate is not part of Common Core, the revamped reading, writing and math benchmarks.

Jean Woodside, a former state Teacher of the Year, said she teaches cursive writing to her fourth-graders at Bains Elementary School in St. Francisville.

She noted that the U.S. Constitution and other historical works were done in cursive. “You have to be able to read and appreciate cursive writing,” she said.

Woodside, a veteran of 28 years in the classroom, said handwriting is no longer classified as a content area, like math and science.

“We have so many curriculum demands,” she said. “Finding an hour or 30 minutes or 45 minutes or whatever it would take to teach handwriting the way we formerly taught handwriting, that is not an option.”

Woodside said she introduces the subject by putting a “love note” on the board every day.

“It is in cursive,” she said. “They cannot even begin to read it when they first come to class.”

Once students buy in, Woodside said, they are eager to learn the skill.

“So as teachers, we have to creatively imbed it in different activities,” she said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog/.