“Until the 1930s, we taught only cursive. That’s the way the country went,” added Kathleen Wright of educational publisher Zaner-Bloser, which specializes in language and writing study materials.
Back then, she said, learning to write in block letters was a way to help youngsters comprehend the printed word. Typewriting was a specialized skill for adults; computers were beyond imagination.
Today, despite the intensity of the debate over cursive, Dinehart lamented a lack of thorough research into the long-term value of teaching young Americans to write and read in longhand.
“We really don’t know enough about cursive to know whether it really is of value or not,” said Dinehart, whose own three young children learn the technique in their bilingual Portuguese-English school in Miami.
“I think what’s unfortunate is that we’re dropping cursive — and we don’t know what the effects of that will be until it’s not there anymore.”
In Maryland, the Howard County Public School System, which includes Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School, folds 30 minutes of cursive a week into its Common Core curriculum in the third grade.
“That’s about as much the kids can absorb at a time,” said teacher Kathleen Russell, who noted how crowded the school schedule has become.
From next year, cursive instruction will begin in grade two in Howard County, with the goal of pupils being able to write “neatly and legibly when handwriting is preferable or technology is unavailable” by the fifth grade, in the words of the school system’s handwriting resource guide.
“As far as the students are concerned, they are excited about cursive,” said teacher Christian Buzzerd before returning to his open-plan classroom where his pupils happily put yellow pencil to lined paper and ignore the bulbous Apple eMac computer in the corner.
“It’s one of the things they consider as another threshold they cross going towards middle school.”