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The Great Handwriting Debate

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There has been a great deal of discussion around the topic of teaching cursive handwriting in the 21st century. Research on the debate is riddled with reasons both for and against including handwriting in the curriculum. Often, it is a discussion that is not necessarily being debated by those that need to make the decisions -- the educators. I am a member of an educational organization titled South Hills Area School District Administrators (SHASDA), and our last meeting's topic was, "The Great Handwriting Debate." This article is our combined efforts to attempt to answer the question, "Should we continue to teach cursive handwriting?"

The first thing to do when jumping into a debate is to be prepared to defend both sides of the subject. In doing so it gives you the opportunity to think about what your competitors are going to bring to the table and prepare your defensive as well as your offensive strategy. In preparing for the meeting's debate, I found little reason to keep cursive handwriting in the curriculum. We already have printing; do we really need two styles of handwriting? Cursive was originally created to allow the writer to write quickly. It was supposedly built for speed. But the reality is that we don't need speed-writing anymore; we have keyboards and speech dictation.

The debate to KEEP handwriting falls into two categories -- those that felt it had historical and artistic significance, and those that felt it would damage the children and society as a whole to not be able to write a signature, read a cursive document, and develop fine motor skills in their hands.

Let's discuss each of these "pro" topics:

First, signatures are quickly disappearing. Digital signatures and other means of signing are taking over rapidly. You can now take an image of your check and send it to your bank without signing it. You can use credit cards over the net without ever having to sign a thing. Retinal checks and thumb prints are two of the more common personal identifiers if there is ever a need to "sign" something without the use of the Internet. It would appear that signatures are not a valid point for keeping handwriting in the curriculum.

Secondly, reading cursive documents is again accomplished by technology. Historical cursive documents are already online and can be traced over so that plain text can be read while looking at the cursive underneath.

Thirdly, fine motor skills will, more than likely, not be negatively affected. The amount of fine motor skills children use today is amazing. Between touch tablets, gaming consoles etc., the development of fine motor skills will not be an issue.

Finally we read about the historical and artistic need to keep cursive handwriting alive. Historically speaking, things change. We do not use rocks to write on cave walls, nor do we use the quill pen and ink to draft our notes. We do not read or write in hieroglyphics nor speak in Latin. Times change and so do the techniques to communicate. The debate for artistic need is where we took a moment and tried to find a compromise. If cursive handwriting is considered artistic, why could we not teach it in the art classes, much like calligraphy? We agreed that if we were to continue to teach handwriting that a good option would be to include it in the arts classes.

As our group sat there pondering the need to keep or abolish cursive handwriting from our curriculum, we came to a group consensus. If we are confronted with the decision to keep or take away handwriting, we would consider removing it from our core classes and attempt to integrate it into the art program. This decision would also satisfy the need to consider cursive handwriting in a historical sense.

Contributing authors from Elementary SHASDA:
Rob Furman
Brad Simala
Rick Pelkofer
Bobbi-Ann Barnes
Noelle Haney