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Indiana Legislature

December 2, 2011

Skinner backing bill to teach cursive writing

State representative from Terre Haute says that Indiana schools should be required to teach skill

INDIANAPOLIS — Students, keep practicing those swirly letters: State lawmakers say they feel so strongly that kids should know how to write in cursive that they’ll push to keep it in schools next year.

Terre Haute Sen. Tim Skinner and Oldenburg Sen. Jean Leising said they were horrified when they learned the state no longer required the writing style be taught. They plan to submit bills when lawmakers return to Indianapolis in 2012 that would reverse that.

“It’s a very simple bill that says that Indiana still has to teach cursive,” said Leising, a Republican. She said she was appalled when she found out that students may not learn the same writing style that has connected generations of Americans. Without it, students wouldn’t be able to read the original version of the Constitution, she said.

Just because schools are no longer required to teach cursive does not mean they are excluded from teaching it, said Stephanie Sample, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education. The change was included in April when the state adopted national “common core standards” for teaching students, she said.

“It’s a local decision, we support schools that want to do it,” she said.

Skinner, a retired high school government and economics teacher, said he plans to either submit his own legislation or sign onto Leising’s. Cursive has been one of the few constants in American education, he said.

“It is a fundamental part of what we [educators] think kids ought to know,” he said.

Cursive may be safe for now, but school systems staring down budget cuts or increased testing benchmarks in math and science may decide to scrap it in the future, he said.

The Legislative Services Agency is drafting the legislation, Skinner told the Terre Haute Tribune-Star on Thursday.

Skinner, a Democrat, said he will talk with Leising and may end up co-authoring her bill or simply lending his support to it. “If I introduce it, it may not get a hearing” in the Republican-dominated Senate, he said. “If she introduces it, chances are very good it will get a hearing.”

He also wants the bill to include language making cursive instruction mandatory for any school that accepts taxpayer-supported vouchers.

State Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, would be willing to sponsor the legislation in the House, Skinner said.

The new “common core standards” were adopted by dozens of states earlier this year as a measure to unify requirements across the states and make the requirements clearer for teachers, Sample said. There’s nothing stopping states from adding onto the standards, but the state shouldn’t micromanage school systems, she said.

“I was personally glad to hear that we weren’t abandoning cursive writing,” said Chris Collier, director of the Center for Inquiry at Indianapolis Public Schools.

The writing style is as important for bridging generational gaps, like reading letters from grandparents, as it is for covering technological and monetary gaps that cannot be bridged by iPads and laptops, Collier said. Not every student has access to a computer at home, and not every classroom has a 1:1 ratio of computers to students.

But legislation mandating cursive instruction is probably not the answer, either, she said. School administrators seem to be sticking by cursive without the added push from lawmakers, she said.

“I’d like to be able to choose the format I’m most comfortable with,” she said. “I like having that variety and I like putting at our kids’ fingertips a lot of methods.”

Tribune-Star staff writer Sue Loughlin contributed to this report

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