Writing off cursive? Not in Catholic schools

Nissa LaPoint
Regina Hombs works with third-grader Claire Begler at All Souls School in Englewood
during a lesson on cursive writing.

The writing may be on the wall for cursive. But Denver Catholic schools refuse to type up its obituary.

While more of the nation’s public schools adopt standards lacking cursive requirements, educators in the Denver Archdiocese said they won’t write it off.

“It is dying even in the state of Colorado,” said Mary Cohen, associate superintendent of the Office of Catholic Schools. “But we’re committed to teaching children in the art of cursive writing.”cursive 2

Forty-five states, including Colorado, have adopted through its state legislature or school boards the new Common Core State Standards for English, a framework for education standards that rarely mentions handwriting—stylistically referring to both print and cursive styles—and excludes cursive altogether.

“We’re focusing less on writing and more about the content of what they’re writing about in preparation for college and a career,” said Melissa Colsman, executive director of teaching and learning for the Colorado Department of Education.

While school districts may choose to teach cursive, state standards don’t require it, she added.

The antiquated skill, opponents say, is unnecessary in an increasingly digitally-centric world and waste of classroom time better spent on other academic subjects.

Proponents counter that beyond its historical significance, cursive boosts motor skills, brain development and correlates with academic achievement. Cohen said cursive is a timeless skill which shows reverence and enhances dignity.

In the midst of debates, Denver Archdiocese Catholic school administrators are revising its curriculum—completed every five years—for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Cursive objectives will be maintained and a required skill by the end of third grade.

“Given the research we have, we’re going to keep it,” Cohen said.

Literacy skills

Keeping cursive in schools has literary benefits. According to research presented at the January 2012 “Handwriting in  he 21st Century?: An Educational Summit” in Washington, D.C., oral and written language is interconnected to effective communication.

Educational psychology professor Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington said she found second-,fourth- and sixth-graders who used handwriting wrote more words, wrote faster and expressed more ideas than those using keyboarding. A separate examination of 144 pupils revealed improved handwriting correlated with improved reading skills, word recognition, compositional abilities and memory.

Third-grade teacher Regina Hombs of All Souls School in Englewood is adamant about teaching the dying skill.

She said cursive, especially for special needs children, makes it “easier for them to recognize a word rather than a bunch of letters.”

The flow of cursive aids in pronunciation, too, she said.

Cognitive and motor benefits

Handwriting also supports brain function.

“When we (handwrite), there’s something happening neurologically that’s beneficial,” Cohen said.

In a research study, Indiana University’s Karin James, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, found the act of writing by hand caused a significant increase in children’s brain activation. Using an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scan, James showed students who wrote well engaged more of their brain’s visual regions than typing.

Recognizing its importance, Catholic teachers on the Office of Catholic School’s curriculum committee board gave  unanimous approval for its continued use in the classroom.

Enhancing humanity

Hombs said she’s noted learning cursive will boost her student’s emotional development.

“They’re very proud it,” she said when her students handwrite. “It’s very good for self esteem. Now they’re writing

like an adult.”

Cursive also contributes to intimacy and is considered proper etiquette for occasions like sending thank you notes and birthday cards.

“People think we don’t need this anymore because we have technology, but we still want to able to write in cursive. It’s polite to handwrite a note because it’s a way of reverencing them,” Cohen said. “You leave your DNA on paper.”

Cursive, she said, will stay in Catholic schools.

“It’s really an important part of our humanity.”

COMING UP: Treasuring our youth

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Denver, Colorado, Friday, August 13, 1993, World Youth Day 1993, Pope John Paul II, bishops, cardinals co-celebrate morning Mass at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, James Baca/Denver Catholic Register.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, then Father Aquila, center, assists Saint Pope John Paul II with Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception during World Youth Day 1993 in Denver. (Photo by James Baca | Denver Catholic)

Can you imagine a sea of two million people gathered together in a field, united in prayer, in faith in Jesus Christ and energized by their encounters with one another? In a few short days, this will be the scene at World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. If you are watching, you will see that faith and hope are alive in young people around the world.

At his papal inauguration ceremony, Pope St. John Paul II captured this well when he said to young people, “You are the future of the world, you are the hope of the Church, you are my hope.”

That is why I have gone to every World Youth Day since the Toronto gathering in 2002. As I look ahead to Krakow, I’m reminded of how important it is for me as a bishop to encourage that joyful encounter with Christ, to challenge young people to live the Gospel and to support them in their encounter with the Lord.

In today’s world, the difference between the values marketed to young people and those of Christ is clear. When he met with youth in Rome for the diocesan level World Youth Day last year, Pope Francis highlighted those starkly contrasting messages.

“Dear young friends,” he said, “in a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘forever,’ because we do not know what tomorrow will bring.”

Instead of giving in to the prevailing culture, the Holy Father urged young people to be “revolutionaries” who swim against the tide and who have “the courage to be happy.”

“I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love.”

Today we don’t hear enough about the good things God is doing. But at a World Youth Day gathering, the reality that he is at work in the hearts of many young people is readily apparent. There is no other way to explain the joyful, peaceful, inspiring stories of grace in action that are heard when young people return home.

But in order for those stories to continue after World Youth Day, our young people must be continually supported and encouraged. The future health of our Church and society depends upon courageous young people who are willing to reject the destructive ideas promoted by secular society, and encounter Jesus through prayer, the Scriptures, the sacraments and in vibrant, Christ-centered friendships.

A life-changing encounter with Jesus in Poland must not be the end of the Christian journey; in fact, for many of our youth, it will be a new beginning. And it is up to us—you and me—to receive our youth when they return from the mountaintop and teach them through our prayers and our lives how to integrate that new beginning into a rich lifetime of being one of Jesus’ disciples.

It is essential that we each ask ourselves: “How can I encourage the young Catholics I know to deepen the experience of Christ and his Church they had in Krakow?” And if the young people you know didn’t make it to World Youth Day, then look for ways to help them meet Christ and experience the joy of meeting others who are alive in their faith.

We are now over halfway done with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and this World Youth Day is taking place under the patronage of two saints of mercy—St. John Paul II and St. Faustina—with the theme, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

During the first days of the gathering, I will do my best to ensure that the experience of World Youth Day is a lasting one by presenting on the three themes of mercy. I have always found it to be a great blessing to participate in this way as a bishop, teaching young people, and responding to their questions with the truth of Jesus Christ and our faith.

Please join me in praying through the powerful intercession of these two mercy saints that our youth will experience the mercy of the Father, and have the courage to reject the falsehoods and false freedoms presented by a culture that does not know Jesus as Lord. Let us pray that they, and all people throughout the world, will encounter the mercy of the Father revealed in the face of Jesus and become merciful like our Lord.