Niagara Gazette

April 28, 2013

Writing's on the wall for teaching cursive in school

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — When New York state signed on to join the common core learning standards, educators of all kinds realized a major change was coming.

One of the largest shifts the new curriculum makes is one away from classic handwriting toward computer typing. Though they can’t do anything about the new standards, local educators certainly do feel a slight unease about abandoning a tool humans have relied on for centuries.

“When you write, you carry through complete thoughts,” Niagara-Wheatfield Interim Superintendent James Knowles said. “When you’re typing on a computer, you don’t think in complete thoughts. You don’t worry about your spelling, about your grammar. It’s difficult to watch.”

Niagara-Wheatfield’s temporary chief has overseen the district’s conversion to common core this year, after former Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Development Jennifer Cawley fell victim to budget cuts in June.

Knowles is an old-school educator, as is his wife, Marilyn. She’s a retired English teacher who spent considerable time teaching and helping students perfect their handwriting skills. The soon-to-be lost art form, at least in the digital age, is representative of a lack of personal touch among human interaction.

Such a life is a little disturbing, he said.

“Technology has taken away a lot of life’s personal touch,” he said. “People don’t even pay attention to other people anymore. Like, if you watch little kids in a restaurant, they all have little iPads. They don’t know how to handle social situations anymore.”

“A hand-written note is far more personal. Now people would rather send an email. But I’d rather get a note written by hand.”

While Knowles is concerned about the future, educators in the Wilson Central School District found a little leeway in the common core standards to try a new experiment.

John Diodate, principal of Thomas Marks Elementary in Wilson, said though common core has eliminated cursive, he’s asking his kindergarten teachers to teach it anyway.

“We’ve decided we’re going to teach it to our kids,” he said. “It’s bubbly, it’s round. When you give kids markers and crayons, they don’t make straight lines. They’re naturally inclined to draw swirls.”

Wilson will still continue to provide keyboarding instruction, as well, a necessary venture if the district plans to keep up with the direction the state’s education department is taking schools in the immediate future. State testing, including the much-maligned standardized tests for students in grades 3-8 in math and English Language Arts, will all be given exclusively online starting in 2015.

It doesn’t leave much time to prepare students to be able to master what is required of them.

But Diodate also must pause and examine the long-term beyond one or two years away. He said the state, and the common core designers beyond it, needs to consider what education truly is.

“Education is really a pendulum swinging back and forth,” he said. “I just wonder when it’s going to come back the other direction. For instance, a focus for a while was on reading for information. But we want our students to read the classics, not just nonfiction.”

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Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.