Cursive Writing Becoming a Lost Art

R1Staff members in the Revere Building Department knew something was amiss in their filing cabinets when the P’s turned up in the B’s.

Things then escalated a when the I’s suddenly were found in the L’s.

After a bit of investigating, Building Department Clerk Valerie Moscone turned up the culprit: the high school interns couldn’t read cursive writing.

But who could really blame them?

Such is the case all over, with one of the few noticeable generation gaps in the country looping and curling into the lives of young and old as young people increasingly are no longer taught the old cursive writing styles that were deemed so essential in schools just a generation ago. And in an era when 80-year-old men sometimes have more technologically advanced cell phones than 20 year olds, finding a generation gap can be a tough score.

“We did have a disconnect with the young kids in high school because they couldn’t read our cursive writing,” said Moscone. “I kept finding the files out of place and I couldn’t understand what was happening. It took me a little while to put it together, but I finally realized that the cursive writing was hard for them to read. The L’s were in the I’s and the P’s were all mixed up with the B’s. We’re still finding them. They did it all very innocently. They were extremely hard workers. It’s just a kind of generation gap I think.”

No Longer Emphasized In School

That summation is quite right.

All over the United States cursive writing has become kind of a lost art and most schools don’t emphasize it the way they did in the past. In fact, while schools might have had entire year’s of cursive instruction in the past, now they don’t even include it as part of the core curriculum in elementary schools.

Most kids take it now only as an elective.

The Journal recently made inquiry with a number of educators, students and clerical workers across the City to find out more about what’s happening to the increasingly lost art of cursive writing. In fact, during our inquiry, other media outlets asked the same questions, including that of a front page article in the Wall Street Journal last week that pointed out how kids all over America are not learning cursive.

That same trend is true in Revere schools as well.

“We have to really concentrate on what is going to help the kids be successful and more marketable when they are older,” said McKinley School Principal Ed Moccia. “I don’t know if cursive is really up there high on the list – if it’s still as high a priority as it once was. It might be good as an enrichment or as a club – that might be a good idea – but I don’t know if it has a place in the core curriculum like it used to.”

Whelan Principal Jamie Flynn remembers back to the days when she learned cursive – in third grade – and she said it was quite a big deal back then. In the school that she oversees now, cursive is simply an elective class for kids who express an interest.

“For me, we learned cursive in the third grade and it was the biggest thing and we all looked forward to it,” she said. “It’s not in the curriculum frameworks now, so it’s not something we over-emphasize. We do have enrichment classes that are available in our curriculum plus classes we offer as part of our extended learning day. Beyond that, we just make sure everyone can sign their name. I think everyone still needs to know how to sign their name.”

At the Paul Revere School, they do not have entire units built around learning cursive, but Principal Barbara Kelly said it is not a lost art at her school just yet. However, to get cursive in requires some creativity.

“It may not be high on the list any longer, but we do weave it in with other subjects so it doesn’t get lost,” she told the Journal. “We try to work it in with other subjects. The time in a day is so important because there is so much we have to teach and cover, but we find that we have to fit cursive in somewhere so as to merge it or infuse it with something else, then it doesn’t have to be eliminated. It’s still important for kids to be able to go between printing and cursive.”

The Future’s In the Keyboard

What has often taken the place of cursive writing is keyboarding.

Moccia said that most every kindergartner in his school is learning keyboarding and typing – not to mention the older grades. That is the same throughout the district, and Superintendent Paul Dakin said he isn’t sure which skill is most important, but he’s leaning towards keyboarding.

“Cursive is certainly not taught with the kind of time commitment that it was when I was in school,” said Dakin. “That is probably one thing that slid off the plate similar to what happened to music, to a lot of the arts and to a lot of the other areas that are terrific for kids, but are hard to cover with the emphasis and time demand on primary subject areas  – what with state testing now. Cursive is probably one thing that got pushed aside.

“Is it bad or good?” he continued. “I’m looking at what most people do now, not in the past but right now, and most people use a keyboard. In the world where it is now, should we be teaching cursive or should we be teaching keyboarding? I open that up as a question for everyone, but I’m leaning towards keyboarding.”

A Beautiful Form of Writing

Back at the Building Department, Health Department Clerk Noreen Cristiano – who works alongside Moscone – holds up several envelopes ready to go out in the mail and addressed with her own brand of stylish cursive writing.

“It’s not too loopty loop, but it’s traditional cursive writing,” she said with a laugh. “I write in cursive all day long. I use it all the time. I don’t know if I really write any other way most of the time.”

She recalled learning cursive in elementary school, and how it was stressed.

“I don’t remember everything about it, but I certainly remember the yellow paper we had to use with the three lines,” she said. “They told us over and over that we had to stay in the lines.”

She noted that her granddaughter, Emma Riordan – who attends St. Mary’s of Danvers – has learned cursive and it doesn’t seem to be dead in her school. But she also said she notices that most kids are losing the skill.

“I think it’s such a pretty form of writing,” she said. “It’s a shame that more kids aren’t learning it.”

Said Moscone, “I remember spending a lot of time on cursive, just like we spent a lot of time learning the adding machine. That’s a dying art too. We had a whole class for the adding machine. Excel spreadsheets took care of that pretty quickly.”

Seemingly, gone are the days of the Palmer Method and, for the older crowd, the Rhinehart Method (both of which were popular cursive teaching methods) that were taught with an iron resolve to kids of old who had to write and re-write the curves of cursive on chalk boards all over America.

And maybe – as some believe – it’s just the future knocking on our door, coming to claim another graceful craft whose time is nearly up and ready to be overtaken by the electronic world.

“I watch the people who can write cursive well and I marvel at it because not many people write like that anymore,” said Moccia. “You have to look at what’s coming in 10 to 15 years down the line and all indications are that electronic signatures using a pin number and keyboarding are going to be the way we go. I think cursive writing will be in museums and the older people who learned it will be able to read it, but the young people who didn’t won’t know what it says at all.”

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