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Tennessee legislature considers mandating cursive instruction for third graders

Tennessee’s state legislature is considering a bill that would mandate the teaching of cursive, the Tennessean reports. If the bill becomes law, schools will be required to teach third graders in the state how to read and write specifically in script.

In Shelby County, as it stands, teaching cursive penmanship is not mandated. Still, some schools do teach it, according to district spokeswoman Stefani Everson. The decision is made at the school level. That’s the case in many districts in Tennessee and nationwide.

The Common Core standards, adopted by more than 45 states including Tennessee, refer to typing, but do not explicitly mandate that students be taught handwriting. A spokeswoman for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which spearheaded the standards, told Education Week that that’s a decision that can be made at a local level.

But, though districts or schools can opt into teaching cursive, it’s been argued that the skill has fallen by the wayside since it is not mandated. A number of states, including Massachusetts and California, have added cursive into their curriculum, and others, including Indiana, have also considered mandating the skill through law.

Researchers have suggested that learning to write helps with students’ motor skills and cognitive development. Handwriting curriculum company Zaner-Bloser has collected research highlighting the usefulness of teaching cursive and handwriting.

In Tennessee, the legislators pushing for cursive make their argument based on communication – will young people be able to read notes in cursive written by bosses and teachers? – and history – will they be able to understand primary sources written in script?

State representative Sheila Butt, a Republican, authored House Bill 1697. From the Tennessean:

State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, authored the bill after being told by parents and teachers that kids today couldn’t read their handwritten notes. Butt frets that the day may come when Tennesseans will no longer be able to sign their names legibly or read the Bill of Rights in its original form.

Cursive seems to have a deep appeal, perhaps because it’s an education issue most people have direct experience with and that is less political and divisive than, say, school vouchers. The Tennessean highlights the fact that, in a divided state government, the cursive bill seems to be one of the few pieces of legislation with bipartisan approval.

When this reporter was teaching in a middle school in Washington, many students had not learned how to write in cursive script – but a surprisingly large percentage were actively interested. Several eighth grade boys actually asked for cursive worksheets and would spend recess tracing letters.

To mark the bill’s consideration, the Commercial Appeal collected cursive handwriting samples from a number of prominent Memphians, including Grizzles coach Dave Joerger.

Tennessee’s House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the bill tonight.

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