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: PHOTO GALLERY: Celebrate Life march and rally 2017

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On Saturday, Jan. 14, hundreds gathered at the state capitol for the Celebrate Life march and rally. A crowd filled with pro-life advocates both young and old marched down the streets of downtown Denver in what was an impressive show of pro-life support. Masses were held at several parishes in Denver beforehand, including the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and the rally featured addresses by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, Real Life Catholic founder Chris Stefanick, and former Planned Parenthood employee turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson.

Denver Catholic photographer Andrew Wright was there to capture the joyful occasion.

All photos by Andrew Wright

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The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was filled to standing room only for the Mass prior to the rally and march.

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An overwhelming number of young people came to the march, proving that a new generation of pro-life advocates is on the rise.

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Archbishop Aquila addressed the crowd gathered outside the capitol, urging them to not be afraid to stand up for life in the public square.

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Real Life Catholic founder Chris Stefanick riled the crowd with an enthusiastic talk before the march. He also pointed out that the term “life” does not apply solely to the unborn; he said the march was also a protest for immigrants, the homeless and the sick.

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Abby Johnson, who has gained fame for becoming a fierce pro-life advocate after being employed by Planned Parenthood, also addressed the crowd. She noted that the pro-life movement has changed and is no longer simply about defending the unborn; she called it a “pro-woman” movement.

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The wide array of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds at the march showed that the act of defending life crosses boundaries and is a sign of universal love and care.

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Doves were released before the march as a symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

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The march filled the length of the streets of Denver and spilled over onto the sidewalks. Police escorts were there to ensure the march could progress safely and uninterrupted.