Typing takes its toll on cursive writing

Typing takes its toll on cursive writing

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Kids are spending more time on computers, phones and keyboards, and they are losing the ability to do the cursive handwriting that children have done for generations.

"I never really used it," said local high school student Dylan Vazquez, who learned cursive in the third grade. "I always type my essays on my computer."

Vazquez, a senior who said he is in the top ten percent of his class, said he struggled when he had to write in handwriting on his SAT, a college entry test.

"I took a really long time," he said. "I had a lot of difficulty with it."

"A lot of kids couldn’t write it," said student Julia Abbene, a local high school sophomore. "A lot of kids were shocked because they didn't expect to have to know it.

Many students post on Twitter about their struggles with the handwriting part of the SAT and the PSAT and the difficulty of cursive.

"Honestly writing that whole statement in cursive is by far the hardest part of the SAT...mine actually looked like a rhino threw up on it:/" tweeted @chipotLEORdie

"We can't do cursive it's actually embarrassing," tweeted @abbyfiner.

Some students said they did learn cursive early on, but have not used it since.

"You can type everything and you can print things," said Abbene. "Nothing really requires a signature, unless you're making a deposit with the bank, or whatever."

Some students said they did not learn cursive in elementary school. The Oregon Department of Education said cursive handwriting skills are no longer required in the state, though keyboarding skills are.

Julia's brother, high school student Ian Abbene, said he is one of the few students he knows who actually uses cursive. He said other students often marvel at his script, and ask him to write their names in cursive, because they do not know how.

"It's so strange to me," said Julia's mother, Clare Abbene. "I'm flabbergasted that there are kids that are like, 'Oh, my, gosh, I can't write this sentence in cursive.'"

Clare Abbene said she sees cursive as an art and a part of history. The Declaration of Independence is written in cursive. And, for some, cursive signatures are personal declarations of who they are.

"It's beautiful," said Clare Abbene. "I love to look at those old documents and then look at the cursive. It's so fancy."

Both she and her daughter said they see the disappearance of cursive as a loss.

"You should know how to do cursive," said Julia Abbene. "I think it's an important skill to know, almost like a dying trade."

"You're at a disadvantage if someone else uses it and you can't read it," said her mother.

Some students echo that sentiment on Twitter.

"Can't do a homework assignment because it involves reading a letter from 1864 and I gave up on cursive in the 3rd grade and now here we are," tweeted @EmilyNoah.

New Cursive?

Local educators Inga Dubay and Barbara Getty say students must write by hand. They say research shows kids use more brainpower when writing a letter by hand than simply pressing a key on a keyboard.

"You touch the keyboard for a 'd,' it's the same as touching a keyboard for an 'a,'" said Dubay.

But they said studies show writing by hand is different.

"This hand-eye motor coordination," said Getty. "It changes your brain."

But Dubay and Getty do not think kids need to use the traditional, "looped" cursive. They have been trying to stop schools from using the traditional cursive since the 1970s.

"It wasn't the right handwriting to teach. It was out of date. It was from the horse and buggy days," said Dubay.

They said they taught their own program to local elementary school students for years, what they call "cursive italic," an efficient cursive without the loops and whorls that they say can often make traditional cursive illegible.

"Sometimes they're intertwined and can distort the word," said Getty of the traditional loops and whorls, "You don't need all that excess."

"It just deteriorates so quickly," said Dubay. "If you go fast, you can have a train wreck with it. It just implodes."

They said schools around the world use the Getty-Dubay program, and they also teach doctors in the United States and in other countries how to write medical notes legibly.

"We figured we've maybe saved a life or two," said Getty.

Dubay and Getty said it is time for traditional cursive to go, as long as students continue to write buy hand, either in print, or in a connected form, like their cursive italic.

"That's what it is all about, is communication," said Dubay. 

State Standards

Oregon Department of Education spokeswoman Crystal Greene said there are no current cursive standards in the state’s English language arts standards.

Greene said that before 2010, a standard for third grade required students to “write legibly in cursive and manuscript, leaving space between letters in a word, words in a sentence, and between words and the edges of the paper.”

She said now, there are standards for typing in the Common Core, Oregon’s current English Language Arts and Math standards.

“Typing is explicitly mentioned in the third to sixth grade English Language Arts-literacy writing standards,” wrote Greene in an e-mail.

She said the standard says third grade students will produce writing "using keyboarding skills." 

In the fourth grade, she said, the standard says students will "demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single setting."  

She added, “The same goes for fifth grade (two pages), and sixth grade (three pages).”

Greene explained the standards for older students. “Seventh- to twelfth-grade students will ‘use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing."

She said the standard gets slightly more complex at each level, until, for eleventh and twelfth grade, it reads, “Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.”

Greene also provided these links:

English Arts Standards - grade 3

English Arts Standards - grade 4

English Arts Standards - grade 5

English Arts Standards - grade 6

English Arts Standards - grade 7