State bill would require cursive and multiplication tables in public school

  • Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 12:01 a.m.
From right: Pat Blakeley-Shuler, a teacher at Hurley Elementary School, praises third graders Victor Edwards and Brock Ledding for their handwriting. State lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require all North Carolina schools to teach cursive writing and multiplication tables.
From right: Pat Blakeley-Shuler, a teacher at Hurley Elementary School, praises third graders Victor Edwards and Brock Ledding for their handwriting. State lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require all North Carolina schools to teach cursive writing and multiplication tables.

SALISBURY — “Start at the top of the attic, and then do a forward curve.”

Pat Blakely-Shuler wasn’t talking about architecture or home decor Wednesday morning. She was teaching her regular handwriting lesson to her third-grade students at Hurley Elementary School.

As she spoke, the children carefully moved their pencils to form the cursive letter “A” in their notebooks.

“Remember, cursive letters hold hands,” she said. “That’s why it’s so much easier to write in cursive.”

Blakely-Shuler is one of many teachers in the Rowan-Salisbury School System who choose to teach cursive. Right now, it’s optional, and a growing number of teachers are leaving it out of their crowded lesson plans.

But a bill proposed this year in the North Carolina General Assembly would require the state’s public schools to teach cursive writing and multiplication tables.

According to the bill, students should be able to “create readable documents through legible cursive handwriting” by the end of fifth grade.

Blakely-Shuler said she likes the idea, and the students would, too.

“When our children get into third grade, they want to learn multiplication tables and they want to learn cursive,” she said.

Lyssa Huff and Joshua Charles, third-graders at Hurley Elementary School, said they have fun learning how to write in cursive in their classroom.

“It feels like learning a different language,” Huff said.

They both said they can write faster in cursive than they can in print.

“I like learning how to do different letters and words,” Joshua said. “Now I’m writing better cursive than my mom.”

N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, who is a sponsor of the House version of the “Back to Basics” bill, said he thinks it’s important for children to learn cursive.

“There have been various studies that show it actually plays a part in the development of the brain and neural pathways,” Warren said. “Plus, just from a cultural standpoint, so much of our founding documents were written in cursive hand. And it would be nice if kids could write their name on back of a paycheck.”

He said it’s also important that students know how to do basic multiplication in their heads without a calculator. They can use that knowledge when they’re in line at the grocery store, he said.

“I embrace that technology has become such a big part of our society and our world in general,” Warren said. “But I don’t think we should become totally dependent on it.”

• • •

Not everyone thinks the proposed bill is a good idea.

More and more writing is now done electronically, and there aren’t many times when people need to know cursive, said Ashley Dunham, of Salisbury.

Dunham, whose two children attend Knox Middle School, said she doesn’t think schools should be required to teach cursive writing because it’s “outdated.”

“They need to know how to write by hand, but really, the idea of requiring cursive handwriting in the digital age... for the majority of professions, it just isn’t used anymore,” she said.

Dunham works as a project leader for Duke University School of Medicine. She said the ability to write in cursive doesn’t matter when she is hiring people.

She said she’d rather see cursive taught as an elective class that students can choose to take.

“It’s a beautiful way of writing, and there’s value in it,” she said. “If the concern is that we don’t have enough time in classroom, we need to maximize that time, and I think cursive handwriting is a waste of it.”

Kim Walton, principal at Hurley Elementary School, disagrees.

She said writing in cursive helps some children fix their tendency to reverse letters, because the letters connect and must be written a certain way. It also aids the students with spelling and reading, she said, because they don’t take their pencils off the paper until they finish a whole word.

Some teachers say they have to leave out cursive writing so they can spend more time on skills that the students need to succeed in school.

But Walton said all five of Hurley’s third-grade teachers include it, and it’s been that way for almost all of the nine years she has been there.

Blakely-Shuler said she understands the difficulty that teachers have fitting in cursive lessons, but it doesn’t take much time.

“The recommended time for teaching is no more than 15 minutes a day,” Blakely said.

Multiplication tables are already taught in the Rowan-Salisbury School System, Walton said. Students must know how to do basic math by hand.

“A lot of school districts, instead of teaching multiplication tables or arrays, are relying on calculators,” she said. “We don’t do that. We teach for mastery first, and then show them how to use the calculator.”

• • •

Leah Campion, of Salisbury, said her younger daughter is now learning cursive at Overton Elementary, but her older daughter didn’t learn it at North Rowan Elementary.

“(She) wanted to know how to at least sign her name, so she more or less taught herself,” Campion wrote in a Facebook message. “I believe cursive should still be taught. I have heard mention of studies that have shown that learning cursive unlocks parts of the brain that allow for better overall learning.”

Private and parochial schools have their own policies.

Sacred Heart Catholic School teaches cursive to all of its elementary students, said Principal Frank Cardelle.

Paula Mead, of Salisbury, said all second-graders also learn cursive writing at North Hills Christian School, where her two children attend.

“The kids are so excited; they love to do it,” Mead said. “They love learning it, and I think it’s beneficial as far as being able to sign your name.”

She said she used to teach third grade in a public school, and her students learned cursive.

Now, as an English teacher at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, she never sees people writing in cursive. If they handwrite something, they print it, she said.

She said she thinks the process of learning how to form cursive letters is still important, and it helps children develop fine motor skills.

“I do think it’s rarely used... but I’m very glad it is taught and touched on, and the foundation is laid,” Mead said. “Whether they choose to use that later on or not is up to them.”

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.



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