August 23, 2017---The act of taking a pen and carefully crafting notes and letters is quickly disappearing from our culture. Taking its place are fingers flying across keyboards, and thumbs furiously pounding out abbreviated words and slang while texting. The alarming trend is one that has caught the attention of historians at Lincoln’s Hearthside House Museum.
“Simply put, if they can’t write, they can’t read it,” states Kathy Hartley, president of Friends of Hearthside, the all-volunteer organization that runs the museum. And so, starting this fall, classes in cursive writing will be offered by the organization. Nancy Poon, recently retired as a third-grade teacher from Northern Lincoln Elementary School, has recently joined the board of directors at Hearthside and is chairing the Educational Initiative, which will eventually include school tours and programs at the Pullen Corner School House at Chase Farm Park when it is fully restored. The class in cursive writing is the first program offering of this new initiative and will be held at Hearthside this fall.
The course is geared toward the 8-12 age group and will consist of one-hour classes held twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting October 3rd and running for 14 classes. The classes are being taught by elementary school teachers who volunteer at Hearthside. The cost is $15/week. Class size is limited to 8 students.
￼Cursive writing has virtually disappeared from the classroom. Increased testing, the implementation of Common Core State Standards and computers in the classroom take more time and resources. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are using the Common Core’s English Language Arts standards and no longer require that cursive writing be taught. But some states have recently moved to make cursive mandatory, such as North Carolina. That state recently passed a “Back to Basics” law which mandated cursive (and multiplication tables) be taught. Other states include California, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina and
The concern about the loss of cursive writing skills by Friends of Hearthside came about from the museum’s own youth docents. “It became apparent to us that these young people, who love history, were not able to read some of the historical letters in our collections,” states Hartley. “What really struck a chord with us though was when 15 year-old volunteer Tatum Pelletier commented that it saddened her not to be able to read the Declaration of Independence. Nothing underscored the loss of learning cursive writing more than that statement,” she added. “The ramifications of this are enormous, as all historical documents, whether of national importance or family memories, would be of no use if they can’t be read and will be in danger of being tossed out and history will be lost.”
With Hearthside’s mission focused on preserving history, not just historic buildings, it was a natural step to add cursive writing into their offerings of traditional skills that need to be saved. The organization has been offering instruction in hand forging at the Hannaway Blacksmith Shop for the past 14 years and recently announced the start of classes in the textile arts of spinning, hand weaving and embroidery.
There are added benefits to learning cursive writing besides being able to read historical documents. Just like art, hand writing activates areas of the brain that don’t get tapped with typing. Studies and research by Indiana University have found that writing by hand develops fine motor skills and improves literacy. Another study, conducted by the University of Washington, revealed that when elementary-school students composed essays on paper rather than on-screen, they wrote more and faster.
￼Elementary school teachers report that writing letters and words by hand reinforces reading skills and the sounds of the words in students' brains much more than just typing them. The brain retains more when writing, rather than typing. Take for example a stenographer who furiously types out words in court. Nothing is being retained as it is being typed.
Students who have cursive writing skills will be highly valued in the workplace, as well. Already, there are reports that they can earn extra money addressing wedding envelopes and reading primary sources written in cursive writing. Even at a tech company, a student who knows cursive writing earns $10 more an hour than his office mates because he can write legibly in cursive. He writes letters for his boss each day, all to higher ups in the company, or thank you notes or informal invitations.
Further, bank managers are reporting that young people coming in to open a bank account no longer have a signature. This has major implications for counterfeiting when everyone has a scribble or “x” on the signature line of a check.
To enroll in the class or for more information, contact Nancy Poon at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Hearthside at 726-0597.￼￼￼￼￼￼