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Idaho legislator’s cursive writing proposal triggers national reaction

Idaho legislator’s cursive writing proposal triggers national reaction

Mitch Coffman
January 23, 2013
Mitch Coffman
January 23, 2013

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, a retired educator, is a fan of cursive writing. To that end, he has introduced legislation to make the teaching of cursive writing a state mandate, and notes that “it’s actually an important part of a child’s mental development. It develops their motor skills in ways that looking at a computer screen does not.”

Then he adds, “If we don’t teach it to younger generations, eventually younger adults won’t be able to read it.”

Bateman introduced his legislation on Tuesday, the day before National Handwriting Day. And already, his proposal has caught attention from other parts of the country.

“We heard about Mr. Bateman’s proposal, and we’re delighted,” said Sheila Lowe, president of the nonprofit American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, and leader of the nationwide Campaign For Cursive movement. She told IdahoReporter.com that the state of Indiana is set to vote on legislation similar to Bateman’s, but she laments that at least 40 other states no longer mandate the teaching of cursive.

“Alabama seems to be doing a good job with this,” Lowe said, “but even here in my home state of California where cursive is supposed to be required, the statute is very weak and it’s left up to individual classroom teachers as to whether or not it gets taught.”

She says that recent research at the University of Washington reveals that areas of the brain having to do with learning, language and working memory "light up" during cursive writing in ways that they do not with keyboarding or printed writing. “We do so much with keyboarding these days, but we can’t afford to lose the development that a child sustains with cursive writing,” she said.

Bateman agrees on the importance of cursive to a child’s development, but he also believes a nation can lose its own history without teaching cursive. “I saw this happen in Germany when I lived there back in the ‘60s,” he said to IdahoReporter.com. “We could arrive at the point where Americans can’t read the original documents of the Constitution.”

Lowe concurs that a nation can suffer by not teaching cursive to children. “Mexico made the mistake of abandoning this practice 20 years ago, and now they’ve begun to require it again,” she said.

While supporting the importance of cursive writing is one matter, the idea of a state mandate for it is something different, according to a spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Education.

“We have great respect for Rep. Bateman and his current effort,” said Melissa McGrath. However, “we believe the higher academic standards Idaho recently adopted in writing still allow Idaho school districts to teach cursive, but also allow Idaho school districts to determine how to teach it.”

Dr. Linda Clark, superintendent of the Meridian School District, says that teaching cursive is already happening in her district. “Cursive writing is an emphasis in the third grade curriculum,” she told IdahoReporter.com. “This emphasis has been in place for many years.”

The idea of a cursive writing mandate “is highly impractical," Don Keller told IdahoReporter.com. Keller is the executive director of Sage International Charter Schools in Boise, and serves on Gov. Butch Otter's Education Stakeholder Task Force. “I'm sure this is well intended, but with the common core curriculum standards and college readiness requirements that we need to address at the local school level, we don't need another state education mandate, not like this one."

Bateman, however, insists that a statewide mandate is necessary. “We adopted the common core standards here in Idaho, and that addresses writing,” he notes. “But that doesn’t address cursive, and without a mandate, it could disappear.”

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