Bill would require cursive, multiplication tables

Feb. 26, 2013 @ 06:19 PM

Earlier this week, a bill was introduced in the North Carolina House of Representatives that would require students to learn cursive and memorize their multiplication tables in school. The bill was sent to the education committee. 

The bill, given the short title "Back to Basics," requires that students are able to write readable documents through "legible cursive handwriting" by the end of fifth grade. 

Should the bill pass into law, it will not mark a change for elementary school students in the Union County Public Schools system. 

"It is something we teach," Tom Bulla, director of elementary education, said. 

A few years ago the department of public instruction gave the local education agencies the option of teaching cursive. 

"We opted to continue teaching cursive," Bulla said. "That came before the principals and they decided that we would continue focusing on (cursive handwriting)." 

It is currently taught in the third grade, then practiced in the fourth and fifth grades. 

"We have a couple of programs that we recommend (teachers) use and resources to support (them)," Bulla said. 

Rebekah Kelleher, an assistant professor of education at Wingate University, believes that students should know how to write in cursive and print. 

"My elementary majors have to complete a handwriting show proficiency in both manuscript and cursive themselves," Kelleher said. 

They use the Zaner-Bloser handwriting program and their tests are graded independently. Kelleher believes the teachers have to be able to model the letters themselves. 

"I think it's something that we've neglected and we have a number of students who are comping up deficient," Kelleher said. "It came from the overemphasis for many years on penmanship being perfect...instead of talking about fluency and legibility...I don't think the keyboard replaces our need to know how to write. I think both cursive and print have their place." 

Kelleher said she has a 16-year-old nephew who did not learn how to write in cursive and cannot read cursive. Right now there is an emphasis on students reading primary documents, many of which are written in cursive, she pointed out. 

Research found that poor handwriting costs businesses and taxpayers millions every year, Kelleher said. There are hundred of unreadable tax returns, illegibly addressed letters and medical issues due to doctor's handwriting. 

"I know we're sending fewer documents...the written document is always going to be with us," Kelleher said. 

However, there is some debate on when students should start to learn cursive handwriting. Some students are not ready in the second or third grade. Though, Kelleher thinks the proposed bill's requirement of writing in cursive by fifth grade is reasonable. 

There is not enough research yet on whether knowing how to write in both styles impacts a student's ability to learn in other areas. 

"It would seem, too, that cursive and manuscript require different parts of the brain to be used and that's why some people are so much better at one than the other," Kelleher said. "Different parts of the brain, I think, are used and I do think that writing incursive seems to fit better with creative writing...there's something about the curves and the connections of the cursive writing that fits with a certain type of thinking." 

Kelleher believes that as it is instructed, the emphasis should be on legibility and fluency or fluidity. The letters should flow as the students are writing, she explained. The student should not have to think or labor over every letter, they should be able to write in cursive smoothly and quickly. 

With regard to the multiplication tables, Bulla said that is part of the common core the state adapted. 

"That is something that is very important," Bulla said. "We want them to develop their fluency and have accuracy and efficiency and know what to do with the numbers when they come to them."