Good Question: Should Schools Teach Handwriting?

SPOKANE, Wash. - It's one of the basic three of education: reading, writing and arithmetic. But, with the ever-increasing use of computers, many school districts are writing off handwriting altogether. Should schools teach handwriting?

In Mrs. Miller's 3rd grade class at St. Charles School, the handwriting is on the wall - and, on the paper. And, nearly all of that writing is in cursive.

"It's fun because adults get to do it and you get to learn how to do it," says Callie Babin, who is practicing her lower and upper-case letters.

What these kids are learning seems familiar to most of us; but, they're learning something fewer and fewer kids across the country will ever learn. Districts across the country are making the switch from handwriting lessons to keyboarding classes, leaving cursive in the dust. Spokane Public Schools and Central Valley Schools still have cursive writing in their curricula, beginning in the 2nd grade. But, a move to change that in districts across the country has some teachers and parents concerned.

"They're going to need to sign their names for legal purposes as an adult," says 3rd grader teacher Alicia Miller. "They're going to need to read it. If their college professor is writing in cursive, they still need to be able to write some words and read them."

But, why use up valuable class time teaching handwriting? It's not graded on standardized tests, it takes longer and, really, who's writing things out by hand these days anyway?

Linda Schneider hopes everyone is. In another classroom across town, the artist teaches calligraphy to future penmen (actually, the class was all penwomen) at Spokane Art Supply Too. Schneider is concerned about the art form, sure, but she also points out what else kids learn when they learn to write.

"Just the hand-eye coordination and creativity," Schneider says. "In the schools, if you take that out, that's part of the development of the right side of the brain."

Schneider makes a valid point. Studies show people better retain information if they write it rather than type it. Yes, it takes more time, but that information is better absorbed. Schneider also worries about documents from our past being rendered useless if we can't understand what they say.

"The problem is, in the children, if we don't know how to write it, they won't know how to read it," Schneider says. "And if they can't read it, they won't be able to read the documents our founding fathers wrote. It will become like a foreign language.")

The 3rd graders will get through St. Charles with their cursive skills perfected. Schneider's students will be able to make beautiful cards and letters for their families. But, the debate over whether or not this art form should be lost forever is nowhere near being erased for good.

(side note: Linda Schneider already wrote me a thank-you note for the interview... and, it was the most beautifully-written note I've ever received!)