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Sharpen the pencils: Tennessee revives cursive teaching

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE (Reuters) - Children in Tennessee will have to get used to holding a pencil again next year when new cursive handwriting standards go into effect in schools throughout the state.

The trend around the United States is to emphasize keyboarding - a skill that is included in the Common Core education standards adopted by most states.

But Tennessee lawmakers, concerned that some children do not have a signature and struggle to read their teachers' handwriting, overwhelmingly passed a bill making cursive a mandatory subject in grades two through four.

Schools are expected to start bringing back the declining art of cursive in 2015-2016 under the new rules, signed into law this year by Governor Bill Haslam.

Keyboarding and print writing will still have their place, but legible penmanship will be required by third grade.

"I am surprised we have stopped teaching it in some places," said Gary Nixon, executive director of the Tennessee School Board. "It's an art that is losing its form because of the keyboard."

For millennials, cursive is quaint and not much more.

"It's kind of like hopping on a Pogo stick. If you can do it, great, but if not, it doesn't matter," said Cory Woodroof, 21, a student at Lipscomb University in Nashville who felt grade school handwriting classes were wasted time.

Also at Lipscomb, 20-year-old Janice Ng of Singapore said she took immersion studies in English back home but "they didn't mention cursive. It's not used."

The benefits of cursive teaching standards are questionable, according to one national literacy expert.

"I don't think it's bad, but I don't think there's much of a point to it," said Sandra Wilde, chair of the National Council of Teacher of English Elementary Section Steering Committee.

Dedicating teaching time to cursive could take time away from touch-typing, a more important skill these days, she said.

Wilde said the cursive requirements in Tennessee echo moves in other conservative states where lawmakers have tried to put their own stamp on the school system in a reaction to Common Core.

The academic requirements under the Common Core State Standards adopted by most U.S. states and territories over the last few years aim to better prepare high school graduates for college and for the demands of employers.

Common Core does not ban cursive writing teaching, said Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped develop the standards.

She said it is up to teachers and communities to decide whether they want to teach it.

(Editing by Fiona Ortiz)

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