Assemblyman calls for cursive to be taught in school

BLOOMFIELD/GLEN RIDGE, NJ — A bill has been reintroduced in the state Legislature that would, if approved, require public school districts to teach cursive writing in elementary schools. Reintroduced in January, Assembly Bill No.1754 has three primary sponsors, including Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-District 28, who represents Bloomfield and Glen Ridge.

“Students can’t even write their names,” Caputo said recently in a telephone interview. “People should know how to write a letter. You don’t throw out the basics when you make technological advances.”

A former teacher for the Newark School District who also worked for the Department of Education, Caputo said the bill is on the docket of the education committee, where he is a member. He does not know yet what his colleagues think, but does not think the bill is controversial.

“Young people don’t know how to write,” he said. “What happens when technology fails?”

Caputo did not foresee additional costs for teaching cursive writing and said instruction was a matter of adjusting curricula. He also hoped the inability to write in cursive was not so serious that younger teachers would not know how to teach it, but he was optimistic about the bill’s chances.

“We have to get a balance with modern technology,” he said. “You always get opposition, but I think the bill will fly.”

Cursive writing instruction should begin, he said, when the child learns to read.

“Writing is a life skill,” he said. “It may not be as important as it once was, but it is part of what kids need.”

The primary sponsor who first advocated for a cursive writing bill was Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, D-District 31, who represents Jersey City and Bayonne.

In a recent telephone interview, McKnight said the impetus for the bill came before she was a legislator, when her 19-year-old son was in elementary school and saw her writing in cursive. To her surprise, he asked, “What’s that?” She thought that schools taught at least the rudiments of cursive writing. So she taught him herself, because, she said, he had to know at least how to sign his name.

“Cursive writing is an art form,” she said. “There are many historical documents written in cursive, such as the Declaration of Independence, which young people can’t even read.”

And writing in cursive, she said, helps someone to understand words.

“When you go to vote, you actually have to sign your name,” she said. “You also have to sign for a mortgage and checks.”

McKnight believes the bill, if approved, will incur a cost, and she is researching just how much.

“It’s not a stand-alone class,” she said. “It can be used in subjects we’re already teaching. We can make this work. Why can’t we have children read and write cursively? We need to pass this down.”

McKnight said the Jersey City School District has a pilot program for cursive writing, and the Woodbridge School District teaches it.

In a telephone interview, Norma Fernandez, the spokeswoman for the Jersey City School District, said the pilot program began in September and is being tried out in four elementary schools in different parts of the city. The school district has 40 schools.

Second and third graders are being instructed, she said, but this may be expanded to fourth graders next year, if there is positive feedback from stakeholders.

“We try to integrate it into the curriculum three times a week for a half-hour,” Fernandez said.

The cost to the district is about $1,000 per grade level.

“The books are consumable,” she said

In an email, Woodbridge Superintendent of Schools Robert Zega said cursive writing was dropped “a number of years ago” and reintroduced in 2015. The district uses a type of instruction called Zaner-Bloser, which is taught in second grade as part of language arts.

“Even with technology, there is still a need for students to write,” Zega said. “Not all classrooms are equipped one-to-one with technology. Typing is a learned skill and it is not age-appropriate for all students to be producing work solely through a device.”

He said cursive writing has many benefits, including strengthening fine motor skills, which results in a decrease of therapy evaluations. It also builds hand–eye coordination and activates the brain, which affects thinking, language and working memory.

“The physical formation of letters has a greater impact on student comprehension and ability to retain information,” Zega said. “Cursive writing allows a flow of uninterrupted writing. There is a strong sense of concentration, and research has shown that spelling improves when handwriting is used, as opposed to technology.”

McKnight said she also has a Republican assemblyman sponsoring the bill: Deputy Republican Leader Ronald Dancer, R-District 12.