A dying art? B.C. schools writing off penmanship

Technology has replaced cursive writing in many classrooms. - The News/Files
Technology has replaced cursive writing in many classrooms.
— image credit: The News/Files

The writing is on the wall – longhand, or cursive writing, is increasingly considered a dying art, and may be dropped from the B.C. school curriculum.

The Education Ministry is conducting a curriculum review, deciding what “core competencies” students should be developing. Cursive writing, which is taught to students in Grade 3, has been taken out of the curriculum in draft documents.

The value of cursive writing is being debated across North America. Many U.S. school districts are leaving it non-mandatory, but a teacher can still choose to keep it on classroom agendas.

In Ontario, public schools are spending less time on cursive writing, but the Toronto Catholic School Board recently passed a motion to bring it back.

It is undoubtedly less often used and less relevant to today’s student, while keyboarding and electronic communication takes over. But should it be dropped?

“From my perspective, I think cursive writing is a valuable thing,” said Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board  trustee Ken Clarkson. “But I have to put myself in the place of kids today – how often do they use it?”

Clarkson learned to write with an inkwell and a dip pen, or quill, at a time when everyone was using ball point pens. Soon the inkwells disappeared.

He predicts the change will be most bothersome to the older generation.

“The pushback will come from older people – grandparents,” he predicts.  “People always react to change in a variety of ways, and there’s a sense of loss.”

Clarkson recalls teaching writing to students as an elementary school teacher. Generally, students enjoy or at least don’t dislike learning formal writing, and it helps them learn some fine motor skills.

Some take more care than others, with girls generally doing a better job, and boys being told to slow down.

“I think most kids kind of liked it.”

In future, if a child gets a handwritten Christmas card from Grandma, will they be able to read it?

“One of the benefits of learning cursive writing is that you also learn to read it,” said Clarkson. “I remember it being a big mystery to me.”

Local District Parent Advisory Council chair Kellie Marquet said she has yet to hear a strong parent reaction to the potential loss of cursive writing instruction. Personally, she would like to see it stay in the school system.

“I think kids should be writing,” she said, noting that it will help them with writing their signature – still a necessary skill.

“You can’t sign an ‘X’ for your name.”

Sarah Nelson, a parent and school board trustee, said she is more concerned with focussing education on the skills students need today.

“It is so rare now that I pick up a pen myself, that focussing heavily on a skill they likely won’t use doesn’t seem the best pedagogical choice,” she said.

“If the concern is about intelligence and creativity, there are many ways that we can develop these in our children. If I had to choose between a personalized learning opportunity, driven by the student, versus being taught cursive writing, I would opt for personalization every time.”

She explained that is the way to spark a child’s natural curiosity, and create life-long learners.

“While I see the value in a basic standard for all learners up to a point, I would rather see our teachers have the freedom to teach more from an inquiry model, where students focus on their own passion, rather than receiving a formulaic education that is prescribed by curriculum with little freedom to follow the interests of learners.”

Nelson explained this opinion comes from someone with an interest in genealogy, who reads historical ancestral documents, and has a personal love of calligraphy.

“… but I recognize that my children are not growing up in the same world with the same interests.  I would rather we let them explore theirs.”

The Education Ministry is using the 2013-2014 school year for review and feedback of its draft curriculum for k-9 students. All feedback is welcome.

• Complete a web-based questionnaire. Curriculum redesign is being discussed on Twitter via the hashtag #bccurric. Members of the public are also invited to summarize their findings and submit a response to

Read a related editorial: Writing on the wall

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