[This has been in the news a lot recently…the amount of time folks use texting, looking at e-mail, social networking sites (FaceBook, Twitter, et. al.); the new lexicon that's springing up through texting, i.e. R U Thr; and the death of face-to-face conversation. This issue concerns me because I feel we're moving farther apart from each other as opposed to moving closer together (albeit that we are closer together technologically…we the lucky few!) I personally haven't written a letter in quite awhile…my bad!]
They can type 60 words per minute, text on cell phones in seconds and instant-message endlessly. What teens can’t do well, it turns out, is write in old-fashioned cursive.
Ask about 40 high school students to write three sentences, and without exception the assignments come back in printing — neat or scrawled, but not in script.
“I’ve forgotten how to write cursive,” said Alexis Miller, a sophomore at Los Altos High School.
“Cursive has a lot of unnecessary loops,” said her classmate David Kay. “It seems to be really inefficient.”
Still taught in third grade and practiced in fourth, cursive then vanishes from state standards, a victim of the push to prepare students for state tests and make them computer literate.
“I think we’re seeing the end of pen-and-paper writing, and that makes me sad,” said Amy Gibson, who teaches English at Fremont High in Sunnyvale. Like other teachers, she laments the loss of a medium that has expressed creativity and inspiration. Some say kids are losing the ability to read original sources of poetry and other writing.
No one knows whether the disappearance of cursive carries a long-term cost. In the first half of the 20th century, schools taught drills, pencil grip, proper writing posture and letter formation. To young children, it’s “big people’s writing.”
But penmanship fell out of favor and out of teacher training programs by the ’70s. And while the state mandates that third- and fourth-graders learn handwriting, by fifth grade the students switch to focus on composing and formatting Word documents. “No one forced us to write cursive,” Los Altos sophomore Kristina Volovich said.
Even elementary students turn in papers typed on PCs. And socializing online encourages kids to quickly learn to type.
“We’re on Facebook and AIM so you get faster,” said Jason Spielman, a Los Altos High freshman.
When a skill is not regularly practiced, educators say, students tend to revert to what they’re most comfortable with: printing.
And also to what’s most acceptable. Print is American youth’s written lingua franca. Los Altos freshman Alice Carli didn’t learn to print until the third grade, when she came to the United States from Italy — where children learn cursive when they start school. She gave up longhand.
Likewise, students at Hammer Montessori School in San Jose learn cursive from kindergarten because founder Maria Montessori believed cursive was easier for young children to learn, teacher Lynn Belmonte said. While it may be easier for children to learn, it takes time to master.
“You have to practice to get better,” said third-grade teacher Jennifer Polizzotto, whose students at Graystone Elementary in San Jose spend about an hour a week learning cursive. “It doesn’t look like it’s supposed to initially. That’s why it would be good to practice.”
Not writing script means some kids have a hard time reading it. Los Altos freshman Yuridia Ramirez said that her parents, who usually write in cursive, have to print notes to her — because she can’t read their writing.
The shift saddens some teachers, who think the loss is not just in aesthetics. Social studies teacher Gerson Castro of San Jose’s Gunderson High School believes longhand writing develops vocabulary. “I’m worried about academic language being lost because of technology,” he said.
Castro’s favorite historical figures are John and Abigail Adams, who corresponded lovingly with one another.
“I don’t know if Abigail would have felt the same way if it were in printing,” said Castro, who discusses the importance of language with his students, “but I do feel like tweets wouldn’t have been enough.”
But writing is, literally, such a pain, students said. “For a final I had to write for half an hour,” Los Altos High freshman David Survilo said. “My hand got tired after 20 minutes.”