Is Cursive Writing Making a Comeback? Two Ohio Lawmakers Want Legislative Action to Make That Happen
By Bill Perry
COLUMBUS – Legislation to make sure cursive writing style is not a lost art or practice for today’s students has been introduced in the Ohio General Assembly by two GOP lawmakers. The bill, H.B. 58, is sponsored by Rep. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) and Rep. Marilyn Slaby (R-Akron), a retired school teacher. It would add the following to the state’s educational requirements:
Ohio school districts must offer instruction in printed and cursive handwriting to students in grades kindergarten through five.
Must ensure that students develop the ability to print letters and words legibly by third grade, and to create readable documents using legible cursive handwriting by the end of fifth grade.
“The bill was voted out of committee. It’s sitting as a pending bill and I would hope we could get it to the floor of the House in the fall,” said Rep. Brenner, the lead sponsor. “Cursive writing was in the state standards before common core. When common core was adopted cursive writing was removed. 16 states have passed similar legislation putting cursive writing back in the school curriculum.”
Brenner pointed to several schools in Ohio who continue to incorporate cursive writing into their curriculum, including one, Lawrence Academy in Northeastern Ohio. “They emphasize phonetically based teaching including cursive writing.”
He recently toured the school along with the cosponsor of H.B. 58, Rep. Slaby. “They target kids with ADHD autism and dyslexia and believe cursive writing is valuable in brain development, so this goes beyond just signing your name. There are studies that would indicate that it would seem to help.”
Broad Public Support for HB 58
The legislation directs the Ohio Department of Education to assist school districts, helping them to identify the most appropriate means for integrating the cursive handwriting requirements into existing curricula. The department would also help local school districts to identify instructional materials to meet the handwriting requirements.
Supporters of restoring cursive writing showed up at a recent House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee hearing on the bill. Lawmakers heard testimony from a number of teachers and former teachers strongly advocating for cursive writing curricula in Ohio schools.
One supporter is Lisa Miles, an Occupational Therapist, who works at a local suburban school district and currently serves students K-6 grade. “The lack of automatic and fluent production of handwriting in children has been shown to adversely affect fluent composition skills,” Miles told committee members.
Moira Erwine, a 31-year veteran educator, past board member of the International Dyslexia Association, and president of Westshore Council of the International Reading Association, highlighted the lack of emphasis on cursive writing in schools. “Somewhere down our journey of accountability, handwriting became an a la cart choice for districts. Many pushed this out of the curriculum. Now we have generations of students who cannot write well and are struggling learners,” Erwine said. “Handwriting most certainly plays a critical role in 21st century education. Learning a keyboard is simply positioning. Handwriting activates the reading network of the brain.”
Second grade teacher Linda Glass, submitted written testimony to the committee. She pointed out the creative benefits of cursive writing. In her letter she wrote, “students who write, whether it be stories, or responses to stories become better readers. Most classrooms do not have enough computers for students to do all their writing via the computer.” Glass went on in her letter emphasizing that “students must learn to write legibly to excel in language arts. We also need to remember that applications and signatures need legible writing. While the world becomes more computerized, we cannot leave behind the basics. Not teaching writing would be like not teaching basic addition and subtraction in math.”
Historical Perspective Supporting Cursive Writing
“Cursive writing is about several things. It’s about history, it’s about knowing how to read the founding documents in their original form. If you don’t know cursive writing, kids will not be able to read them,” Brenner emphasized.
That argument was also presented to lawmakers in committee by Joseph A, Nuzzi, Jr. a former teacher with the Youngstown City Schools. He taught social studies for 31 years and gave lawmakers a perspective on the bill that teaching and understanding cursive writing is needed from an historical research perspective.
“How sad it would be if future generations of historians could not read, nor understand, journal entries, manuscripts, and original writings of famous and infamous people alike throughout history,” he told committee members. Nuzzi emphasized that knowing and understanding cursive writing is critical. “Imagine how much knowledge and insight would have been lost by simply not understanding cursive writing. And how about those letters written by airmen, sailors and soldiers from the front lines of war? What valuable lessons learned by reading such letters would have been lost if cursive writing was never taught.”
Nuzzi noted that one of the most famous military men in history, George Washington, wrote some very interesting letters to his wife Martha. “I had the pleasure of reading while doing post-graduate work in history at Youngstown State University,’ he said. “The historian is similar to a detective in that a lot of information has often to be collected in order to put the pieces together to form the big picture.” He summarized that it is important that students who become interested in historical research are taught early in elementary school the basics of cursive writing in order to read original transcripts and documents.
“We’re seeing many kids today in high school who cannot read hand written letters,” Brenner noted. “Cursive writing helps with brain development, especially for kids with learning disabilities and I believe teaching cursive writing is something that we need to continue to do, especially at the elementary level.”
In response to concerns about local control of school curriculum, Brenner explained that the bill is written to be broad and very open to local control. “HB 58 allows local school districts to set the time, place and how they put it in their curriculum,” he emphasized.