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Senator opposes bill to require cursive skills

Posted: June 4, 2014 - 2:34pm

COLUMBIA — Cursive writing is getting attention that should be focused elsewhere, according to a state senator.

Jasper County Sen. Cle-menta Pinckney is blocking a bill that would require South Carolina schoolchildren to be able to write in cursive by fifth grade. Pinckney said teachers already have enough to focus on.

‘‘We have a good, solid set of standards, and I just think leveling on an additional standard of that magnitude really doesn’t equate to much in the grand scheme of things,’’ he said after placing a procedural freeze on the bill, the ‘‘Back to Basics in Education Act.’’

‘‘Pragmatically, I don’t think it’s something we need right now. Later, next session, something else may occur that would change my mind,’’ said the Democratic lawmaker who also represents Beaufort, Allendale, Charleston, Hampton and Colleton counties.

Even as people spend more time tapping and typing than sending handwritten notes, other states remain rooted in tradition.

Georgia mandates cursive writing instruction in grades three and four as part of the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards.

In Florida, cursive is included in English/Language Arts standards in third grade, with fluency by fifth grade.

An affection for cursive appears to be more than nostalgia.

Gayna Scott, chairwoman of the Campaign for Cursive, said the group’s members are ‘‘avid supporters’’ of the bill, which cleared the House on a 92-0 vote in April.

‘‘The research is overwhelmingly showing us that learning this life-long skill benefits the development of the young brain in numerous ways,’’ she said. ‘‘Modern handwriting only takes 15 minutes a day to learn for one school year, and best to start in the first grade.’’

On May 28, Pinckney and Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orange-burg, cast the only two no votes on the bill that was approved by the education committee. However, Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, said he’s also troubled by the legislation. Though he said Pinckney’s procedural blow to the bill would effectively kill it, Scott said he couldn’t say outright that he’d vote against it if it came on the Senate floor.

‘‘I would ask some real questions,’’ Scott said. In particular, he wondered whether a cursive-writing mandate would keep Spanish-speaking children from keeping up in school.

The state’s Hispanic population grew 148 percent in the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Census. Hispanics make up 5.1 percent of South Carolina and are mostly of Mexican origin.

‘‘You're asking them to master two written languages at one time,’’ said Scott. ‘‘And if they start school after second grade, they’re having to play catch-up.’’

Sheila Lowe, president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, believes the opposite is true.

‘‘Handwriting training helps create new neuronal pathways in the brain and (I’m guessing here) could probably help these children learn the language better,’’ she said in an e-mail.

South Carolina pulled its cursive writing a standard in 2008, according the South Carolina Department of Edu-cation. Since materials are 14 years old, budget officials suggested an $11 cursive writing workbook, which would cost $647,000 for about 57,300 second-graders.

It's a revision from an earlier eye-popping estimate of nearly $28 million. The proposal would mandate that public school children be competent in cursive writing and have the multiplication tables memorized by the end of fifth grade.

‘‘Just looking at what our district and other districts are trying to do now, I think we need to focus on our Common Core standards and other really big state standards,’’ said Pinckney.

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