Cursive writing re-emphasized in digital age

Smartphones, selfies and cursive writing

Kaylah White, 6, is a rising first-grader at Suder Elementary. She attempts to write in cursive like her mother who is also a teacher at the school. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

Kaylah White, 6, is a rising first-grader at Suder Elementary. She attempts to write in cursive like her mother who is also a teacher at the school. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

JONESBORO — A curious 4-year-old Joseph Kehoe is viewing his photograph on a digital camera display.

Pleased with what he sees, Kehoe smiles and attempts to move on to the next photo. Impulsively, he swipes his index finger across the 2-inch screen. But nothing happens. He tries again, more deliberately. Still, nothing.

The Locust Grove preschooler expected to be dealing with a touch screen because displays that small and even twice as large have always been touch screens to him. The camera model must have been a few years old.

The boy is part of a generation that knows touch screens as components of the smart phone — small computers encased in plastic used for surfing the web, making phone calls, playing music, taking selfies and texting.

The tot, no doubt, will be tapping his name onto a virtual keyboard within the year.

He knows little about the old desktop keyboards, which have survived the test of time. The videocassette recorder, on the other hand, was more or less liquidated by the turn of the century to make more space for the digital videodisc or DVD players whose bounty was short-lived, thanks to online video streaming.

Novelty telephones are sold here and there — less changed over decades than last year’s Android smartphone. The end-table message pad now comes in the form of voicemail or text, and maybe an occasional photo if the picture speaks louder than words.

This is where it starts, the advent of technology and the costs of its arrival.

Educators acknowledge fewer and fewer kids have a firm grasp on the simple centuries-old art of cursive writing these days.

It is easier, cheaper and faster now to communicate via text or email message than handwriting a letter with pencil and paper. The same is true in commerce as even bills and receipts are paperless these days.

It means there is less need to hand-write anything not already sentimentalized in greeting cards and even less incentive to write it in cursive.

A growing number of young people do not quite grasp this skill in cursive writing — not the same as their grandparents.

That generation balanced checkbooks as a rite to adulthood, signing along the dotted lines on one life-changing document or another, a house deed or a driver’s license or a marriage certificate. They sent hand-written letters by courier and tapped their names on bulky typewriters.

This generation has spreadsheets, usernames and passwords, and taps out short consonant-laden words on hand-held super computers.

Members of the younger generation still learn to ride bicycles for fun, even as they are expected to trade in their handlebars for steering wheels.

Kaylah White, 6, can write her name in print, but she tries to write her name in cursive, looping and connecting the letters where she sees logically fit. And although she leaves a gap between the “y” and the “l” in her name, she has independently figured out the method in cursive writing.

White is a rising first-grader at Suder Elementary in Jonesboro. It helps that her mother, Yolanda White, is a fourth-grade teacher at the school and knows something about child development and student achievement.

She and other educators acknowledge cursive writing competes with more rigorous standards these days, and understandably so.

Third- and fourth-graders must be able to explain the function of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs and be able to use their different forms in sentences that become increasingly more complex as the school year progresses.

Cursive writing is part of those English/language arts standards, like the bow atop an immaculately wrapped Christmas gift. It matters, sort of.

Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said the skill is still embedded in state standards for third and fourth grade students such that they learn how to write legibly in cursive, leaving spaces between letters in a word and between words in a sentence.

“While technology has revolutionized the state of 21st century communication and learning, lettering is still a relevant curricular skill for our students,” said Zackory Kirk, English/language arts coordinator for Henry County Schools.

Teaching the writing skill is an individual decision for teachers to make based on student readiness and student need, said Kirk.

Kirk said the method of instruction varies from school to school and class to class, but the formal education does occur inside the classroom. And there may be some enrichment occurring outside of class, he said.

Dr. Ebony Lee is the coordinator of K-12 language arts and media services for Clayton County Public Schools. She said the basic principle in writing in print or cursive is a foundation for a successful educational experience.

Lee said that just as students learn to receive communication by reading, they also must learn to communicate through writing.

For educators, she said, the priority in making students college and career-ready. Part of that mission is working on student handwriting, which requires consistency.

Lee said there are still time-tested ways to practice.

Students can learn cursive writing by tracing the alphabet on paper, said Lee, noting there are writing workbooks available at school supply and bookstores.

A facile skill it is, for sure. But cursive writing is one that requires an earnest initial effort even as parents chase behind technologies that increasingly have little use for the skill.

Professionals have tapped their names over generations on devices, from heavy typewriters to super-lightweight smartphones. Surely, a kid can learn to loop a couple dozen letters on paper.

Kehoe and White may never learn how to balance a checkbook. Maybe neither will ever lay hands on a typewriter or be bothered by unwound VCR cassettes. But they will know how to ride a bike and how to read and write in cursive.