Across the country, there's a new push to bring back an old skill. Last year, the Louisiana Legislature joined 16 other states in making cursive writing a required course in elementary schools, and the law took effect in January.
That means that most second-graders started learning cursive this semester, and the law specifies that all Louisiana children must be proficient in cursive by the start of the third grade.
For many adults, learning cursive as a grade-schooler might sound like nothing new.
But those of a younger generation — who grew up learning to text before they could ride a bike — might think cursive writing is some kind of foreign language.
Computer keyboards have made typing a much more common way of communicating than cursive, and many schools across the country have stopped teaching it.
State Sen. Beth Mizell says that's a problem. She summed up a complaint from one of her constituents, a title company owner in Amite who needed help reviewing land sales.
"When he hired high-schoolers to work over the summers," says Sen. Mizell, "they would look at old documents with notations in cursive and they could not read them."
Sen. Mizell was surprised to learn that some high-schoolers, and even college students, don't know how to read something that many others take for granted.
Part of the issue can be traced backed to the resistance to "Common Core," the federal standards adopted by most states, including Louisiana, about 10 years ago.
Although Common Core only applies to English and math courses, some schools have struggled to increase instruction in those subjects, while paring away any other courses that might seem extraneous. Cursive took a hit, and conservative opponents of Common Core began to demand that it be brought back.
But in Louisiana, it was a nonpartisan issue. Sen. Mizell simply believed that an important skill was slipping away, so she drafted a bill to require all Louisiana schools to teach it. She thought getting it passed would be easy.
"I went in very 'Pollyanna,' thinking this is a great idea and everybody's going to love it, says Sen. Mizell. Instead, she says, "there were a lot of jokes, like, 'well, we need to read the Magna Carta'-type things."
Sen. Mizell was dismayed — but not deterred.
Educational studies have shown that taking notes in cursive is better for students' brain development, better than printing or typing on a keyboard.
Teacher Niki Gazley agrees. She’s teaching cursive this semester to her second-grade students at Cedarwood School in Mandeville.
"There is so much research out there about cursive," says Gazley. "Children are accessing both hemispheres of the brain, when in printing it's only one hemisphere. So they're actually… building more circuitry in the brain, which is making them smarter."
Gazely also says the kids seem to enjoy it, taking pride in carefully crafting each looping letter on worksheets at their desks.
"It's kind of different from printing," says second-grader Regan King, "It’s like you're drawing."
Cedarwood Principal, Kathy LeBlanc agrees with Gazely that learning cursive at this age will help students long after grade school.
"Learning is scaffolding, we scaffold skills," says LeBlanc. "Students who master cursive at this age will go on to college more efficient at taking notes, so it's a skill they will use their entire life."
But back in the state Legislature, Sen. Beth Mizell’s bill didn't pass unquestioned. Some lawmakers wanted to know if adding cursive would cost too much. But Sen. Mizell says she found that many schools already had cursive workbooks that weren't being used, and the way kids learn cursive hasn't changed.
Still, Sen. Mizell was surprised by what happened on the day of the vote. She and her assistants had noticed that her fellow lawmakers were passing a sheet of paper around, surreptitiously. And when she saw it, she knew she had won the day. That sheet of paper is now framed in her office.
"When (an) aide brought me my bill, it had been signed by every Senator on the floor." It was signed in cursive.
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