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Illinois Lawmakers Override Their Governor on Cursive, Say All Students Will Benefit From Handwriting Instruction

By Laura Fay | November 9, 2017

The question of cursive in schools is swirling again, this time in Illinois. Lawmakers there recently passed a measure mandating cursive instruction, overriding the governor’s veto and joining at least 14 other states that require penmanship classes.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure, calling it “yet another unfunded mandate,” the Chicago Tribune reported. But a bipartisan consensus in the Illinois House and Senate voted to override his veto. It is far from the first time the state Congress has overridden a Rauner veto.

“Cursive writing is a skill children will need throughout their lives,” Senate Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat who led the push, said in a statement. “You cannot write a check, sign legal documents, or even read our Constitution without an understanding of cursive writing.”

The law requires cursive instruction by fifth grade for Illinois students starting in the 2018–19 school year.

The Great Cursive Debate has resurfaced several times since 2010, when many states adopted the Common Core State Standards, which require keyboarding skills but not penmanship. In 2014, a segment on the PBS NewsHour asked, “Is Cursive Handwriting Dead in America?”

But in a 2016 opinion piece, The Washington Post’s Joe Heim declared that cursive was “Like Madonna and newspapers” in its “gritty staying power.”

“Cursive writing was supposed to be dead by now,” Heim wrote.

In some places, maybe it is. An attempt to introduce cursive requirements in the state of Washington failed to even get a committee vote in the state house last year.

And yet, in the past two years alone, states including Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona have implemented cursive legislation. The country’s largest district, New York City, encourages cursive as well.

But do kids really need the fancy letters to succeed? Critics say teaching cursive takes up time and resources better spent on other things. And some educators argue that if it’s not mandated by the Common Core State Standards, why bother?

Some research suggests that writing by hand rather than typing helps students remember what they write, and neat writing is important for success in school, education professor Steve Graham told Education Week last year. But whether students learn to write by hand in cursive or print doesn’t make much difference, Graham said.

Others suggest that students need cursive to access historical documents and write faster. And cursive may make reading and writing easier for some students with learning disabilities, according to a 2014 New York Times article.

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