Cursive handwriting taught less at Iowa City schools, nationally

BY BRIANNA JETT | APRIL 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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Pencils and pens could eventually become obsolete in the face of newer technology.

Every year, less and less time is spent teaching children handwriting, especially cursive.

"It's emphasized a lot less today than it was in the past," said Renita Schmidt, a University of Iowa associate professor of teaching and learning. "Today, we have so many other devices. Some of those things are taking the place of writing."

Children in the Iowa City School District still learn cursive, but it's not a subject of focus.

"The amount of time spent in instruction is minimal compared with other curriculum taught, such as reading and mathematics," said Pam Ehly, the director of curriculum in the School District. "However, we do believe that being able to print and write cursive are important skills."

Ehly said cursive has been taught in Iowa City schools for the more than 30 years she's been with the district.

Although Pam Ries, a clinical associate professor and elementary-education coordinator in the UI College of Education, agreed teachers spend less time on cursive, but does not think it will change very soon.

Eventually, though, she predicts a shift away from handwriting altogether.

"I would not be terribly surprised if cursive and even print went away," she said.

She noted the fate of shorthand — what once was taught in schools is no longer needed. She said cursive handwriting could follow the same path.

"I think it's becoming less important," Ries said. "Most people can type more quickly."

Schmidt, however, does not believe that cursive will ever truly leave.

"I don't think there is a chance it will die, because people won't let it die," she said. "I think beautiful handwriting is like art. And I think that's why people feel sad about the decline of cursive."

Cursive is taught for its benefits, though, not its beauty.

"In general, the need is based in the fact that connecting the letters permits the writer to write more quickly," Ehly said. "There is a flow to the writing, rather than the independent letters when printing occurs."

Although cursive is touted as more efficient, many people still choose printing.

"Printing is easier," Schmidt said. "Printing is the first writing we do."

Ries insisted that cursive requires practice to become easy and efficient. And without that, many people turn towards printing.

"I don't think a lot of people have had enough practice," she said.

Schmidt agreed that a lot of handwriting is declining, but also said it is also changing every time someone picks up a pencil.

"Sort of what is happening is people are personalizing their handwriting," she said. "A lot of people when they sign their name are still using a unique form of cursive."

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