“Look at that handwriting!” many parents gasp in horror when their children take pen in hand. “When I was your age, I wrote in beautiful script.”
While Mom and Dad may be “mis-remembering” their own youth, there is some truth behind their consternation. After all, the need for proficiency in penmanship has diminished with the rise of technology. Laptops, iPads and smart phones have made communication so easy, that for many students, traditional handwriting has been relegated to the land of dinosaurs.
But there’s a movement afoot in our area to keep cursive writing alive and a required academic skill. For instance:
• In Port Washington, Interim Assistant Superintendent Michael DeStio said that cursive writing is solidly part of curriculum. “We use a computer program called Zaner Bloser, and there is a lot to like about it,” said Destio. “It’s a skill the students need to have. They need to write.”
• In Garden City, “Grade 2 students focus first on manuscript,” said Dr. Teresa Prendergast, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “Then they move on to cursive, lower case formation of the letters, starting in January. Each student’s book is sent to the grade 3 teacher to continue the cursive process.”
• In Glen Cove, it’s much the same. “Our teachers introduce and teach cursive writing in third grade,” said Superintendent Michael Israel. “As students are promoted from one grade level to the next, teachers require students to complete some of their assignments using cursive writing.”
Among those on the front lines of the fight to preserve penmanship is Sister Angela Stodolski, who volunteers three days a week at De La Salle School in Freeport to help fourth- and fifth-graders develop their skills. A retired teacher, who accumulated 40 years on the job and taught all over the tri-state area, Sister Angela has local connections to schools in Bellmore and Floral Park. She came to De La Salle at the invitation of Brother Thomas Casey, president of the institution.
“There was an opportunity and I grabbed it,” Sister Angela said. “I contributed where I could.”
While some kids whine about penmanship being old-fashioned, Sister Angela points out some very current and important applications.
“I tell the students that they need to know their signature to sign checks and fill out applications,” she said.
In addition, typing doesn’t help the brain develop as much as writing because there is “no tactile difference between the individual keys,” said Jake Weidmann, a 28-year-old Master Penman. Based in Colorado, Weidmann is one of only 11 people worldwide to hold the Master title. Needless to say, his handwriting is beautiful.
But few of today’s students are eager to pursue Weidmann’s status. In fact, a poll conducted in 2010 by Junior Scholastic magazine, showed that 3,000 of 3,900 middle school students believe cursive should be erased.
Sister Angela disagrees and remains optimistic.
“They’re getting it, they’re anxious to learn,” she said of her students. “I’m getting good feedback.”
Manuel, a sixth-grader in Sister Angela’s class, understands the importance of penmanship. “If you write something and somebody can’t read it, they might misunderstand, and that could be a problem.”
Orlando, another sixth-grader, is also a fan of the class. “It’s worth it. My handwriting is much neater.”
Or as Glen Cove Superintendent Israel put it, “In the age of exploding technology…we still feel that cursive writing is an important component of the curriculum.”