Two New Jersey lawmakers are hoping to revive the teaching of penmanship, or cursive writing, in schools.
Sen. Brian Stack, a Democrat from Hudson County, recently signed on to sponsor a bill (S2183) requiring public schools to teach elementary students to read and write in cursive. It’s identical to legislation (A3042) Republican Ron Dancer introduced in the Assembly earlier this year.
Dancer, who represents Monmouth and Ocean counties, first proposed the cursive writing idea during the last legislative session, but that measure never passed out of committee.
Dancer, 66, grew up in an era without computers and continues to take notes in cursive. His concern is that amid increasing reliance on electronic devices from an early age, future generations of students won’t be able to read original historical texts.
“All our historical documents were handwritten in cursive — the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights,” he said. “Cursive writing is timeless because it connects us to our past.”
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Stack, in an emailed statement, said he decided to sponsor the bill after speaking with teachers and occupational therapists.
“Experts seem to agree that learning cursive handwriting, especially in grades 4-6, had a direct positive effect on cognitive growth and also helped children with disabilities such as dyslexia,” Stack said. “The cost to implement or continue to teach cursive handwriting in schools is nominal and should be a part of the curriculum.”
Emphasis on penmanship seems to have fallen by the wayside as classrooms have increasingly focused on teaching English, math, and, to some degree, science and technology. Moreover, those who feel that teaching cursive is time wasted point to the fact that most communications are no longer handwritten.
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But others continue to see the value in teaching cursive, which, according to graphology, helps a great deal in the process of personality construction.
Sheila Lowe, president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, which sponsors the Campaign for Cursive movement, said studies have shown that children who write in cursive exercise different parts of their brain, leading to improved learning and behavior, as well as better motor skills.
“The effect is they learn to spell better, they listen better and they retain information better,” Lowe said.
According to a 2012 informal survey by the New Jersey School Boards Association — which included responses from school board members, administrators, school officials and others — 56.7 percent said their districts still taught cursive writing, while 16.4 percent said their districts did not and 16.4 percent did not know.
In that same survey, 77 percent of respondents said cursive should be taught while 10 percent disagreed and 8 percent were undecided. Six percent said they felt cursive should be taught but not emphasized, and that students shouldn’t have to write in cursive.
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Joellen Kralik, a research analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the organization has seen a trend over the last few years of lawmakers introducing measures to require that cursive writing be taught. At least 11 states have considered such proposals this session, with two (Alabama and Mississippi) enacting legislation this month.
That brings to at least eight the number of states that have enacted such legislation, she said. And while their state legislatures did not pass a law, at least three states have regulations, through administrative codes, requiring schools to teach cursive writing, she said.
It remains to be seen if New Jersey will follow suit. Both the Assembly and Senate versions of the bill have been referred to their chamber’s education committees for review.
Dancer is hoping this time that fellow lawmakers and the governor will see fit to make the issue a priority.
“The skill of being able to read and write in cursive should not be lost in this electronic, digital age of keyboarding,” he said.