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Some states preserve penmanship despite tech gains

AP

A student practices writing in cursive at St. Mark’s Lutheran School in Hacienda Heights, Calif.

LOS ANGELES — The pen may not be as mighty as the keyboard these days, but California and a handful of states are not giving up on handwriting entirely.

Bucking a growing trend of eliminating cursive from elementary school curriculums or making it optional, California is among the states keeping longhand as a third-grade staple.

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The state’s posture on penmanship is not likely to undercut its place at the leading edge of technology, but it has teachers and students divided over the value of learning flowing script in an age of touchpads and mobile devices.

Some see it as a waste of time, an anachronism in a digitized society where even signatures are electronic, but others see it as necessary so youths can hone fine motor skills, reinforce literacy, and develop their own unique stamp of identity.

The debate comes as 45 states move toward adopting national curriculum guidelines in 2014 for English and math that don’t include cursive writing but require computer keyboarding proficiency by the time pupils exit elementary school.

Several states, including California, Massachusetts, and Georgia have added a cursive writing requirement to the national standards, while most others, such as Indiana, Illinois, and Hawaii have left it as optional for school districts. Some states, like Utah, are still studying the issue.

Whether it is required or not, cursive is fast becoming a lost art as schools increasingly replace pen and paper with classroom computers and instruction is increasingly geared to academic subjects that are tested on standardized exams. Even the standardized tests are on track to be administered via computer within three years.

Some educators say writing in block letters may be sufficient when it comes to handwriting in the future.

‘‘Do you really need to learn two different scripts?’’ said Steve Graham, education professor at Arizona State University who has studied handwriting instruction. ‘‘There will be plenty of kids who don’t learn cursive. The more important skill now is typing.’’

Cursive still has many proponents who say it benefits youngsters’ brains, coordination, and motor skills, as well as connects them to the past, whether to handwritten historical documents like the Constitution or to their parents’ and grandparents’ letters.

Longhand is also a symbol of personality, even more so in an era of uniform e-mails and text­ing, they say.

For many teachers, having children spend hours copying flowing letters isn’t practical in an era of high-stakes standardized testing.

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