Preserving Penmanship: Who’s Still Teaching Cursive?

Cursive hand-writing.  It has mostly become a thing of the past, even in our schools.

For years now, a majority of schools have stopped teaching cursive in favor of other things like keyboard skills. That means many kids these days look at it like they’re seeing hieroglyphics.  But, one Northern Michigan school is preserving penmanship.

Used to be, school kids were given marks on something called penmanship, but not any more since cursive is mostly becoming a forgotten form of writing.

Second grade students in Mrs. Timmer’s class at Holy Angels Elementary School in Traverse City stand up and use their arms and legs to simulate the motion of slants and curves in cursive handwriting. “[They] try to use our body in the motion as well so that they can really feel the curves and the slants and then we just start writing,” says Janina Timmer.

The Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools or GTACS are a virtual anomaly in our area since they still teach cursive as part of their regular curriculum.

“I think it’s very important to learn this classic art. Old documents that we need to be able to read.  Their signatures when they are signing their name on checks or to legal documents,” says Timmer.

They begin lessons in the second grade and carry it through fifth grade.  Kim Meachum has been teaching at GTACS for 30 years are can’t imagine it not being a part of normal instruction.

“The development that they’re learning in that and that mind training is a piece that we’re losing in our education system when we take that element out,” says Meachum.

Matt Bauman is the GTACS Director of Curriculum and Instruction. He says research shows it’s an important component of brain development. “It actually activates both hemispheres of the brain.  There’s kind of the logical, kind of the academic side, but then there’s also the art side. You’re actually forming those letters,” says Bauman.

For many Michigan schools, cursive has fallen by the wayside. It’s not required by the state. “I understand time’s short during a school day.  I understand that there are things that are tested by high stakes testing that you have to get in,” says Bauman.

Traverse City Area Public Schools do not teach cursive as part of regular instruction — except in their Montessori program. Otherwise, Director of Curriculum Andrew Phillips says it’s up to individual teachers to expose their students to this style of writing. Districts may teach enough for kids to form a signature.  “The endgame is to produce students who are ready for college and future careers.  I think our goal is to have them producing high quality pieces of writing versus high quality pieces of writing that are written in a particular format,” says Phillips.

Phillips goes on to say they choose to spend more instruction time teaching kids how to use technology, “Writing with their fingers on a keyboard. That’s what we want to prepare them for.  And I think that the more we use technology, kids experiment with all sorts of fonts when they get to that stage of writing too.”

At GTACS, they try to strike a balance between classic handwriting and technology.

By the fifth grade, their students are required to write entire essays in cursive. “They’ve shown that writing things down in cursive actually causes you to retain the information better than say print or keyboarding.  It causes your brain to think on it and process it just a little bit harder,” says Bauman.

Our neighbor to the south, Ohio, enacted a law last year making it mandatory for schools teach cursive.  They are just one of 12 other states to do so.

A similar attempt was made in Michigan in 2017, but it failed in the state House.