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Cursive, written word decline as technology takes over

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An Upstate student practices her cursive writing. (File/FOX Carolina) An Upstate student practices her cursive writing. (File/FOX Carolina)
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GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Computers in the classroom have created a new normal, but have electronics pushed some things aside, like the written word?

In some places, students are barely being taught to write in cursive, and it bothered one Upstate parent so much she contacted FOX Carolina.

Jane Nelson's 13-year-old daughter Erin Bell is a swimmer who knows how to stay afloat, but the teen is concerned that she's not been taught certain life skills in school to keep from drowning in society.

Erin said she never learned to write in cursive. She said she's embarrassed and frustrated that her little cousin can write, but she cannot.

She's an honor student at Legacy Middle School who speaks French and plays the violin and clarinet. Erin said some of her friends know cursive but many don't. She said her teachers at her language-focused elementary school never taught her the basics of handwriting.

At Summit Elementary School in Greenville, writing their names is the biggest thing fourth grade teacher Susan Burkholder wants her students to grasp.

She thinks it's unfortunate when teachers don't teach cursive, because she thinks it's a life skill.

"Something they're going to use from now on out and the more comfortable they are with it, the more they're going to use it," Burkholder said.

While some teachers may not teach it, the South Carolina Department of Education said cursive writing is not optional.

State standards expect second-graders to learning cursive, and by third grade, they should use it regularly.

That's a little different from what Burkholder said, that her students come into fourth grade with varying knowledge of cursive writing. She said in Greenville County, they were supposed to first see it in third grade and know it well by the end of fourth.

"I know there are more people that think it's more important than others. When technology came in really big about 10 to 15 years ago, that's when the cursive started nose diving because people thought, well, we've got all this technology, everything's done on computers, so we don't need cursive anymore," Burkholder said.

One argument against teaching cursive comes from the University of South Carolina Upstate's Language and Literacy Department. Professor Kela Goodman thinks it's more important for students to read, understand and respond than in what form it is they write those responses.

Goodman said signing a check is obsolete, with online payments becoming the norm, and keyboarding has taken the place of handwriting.

Erin's mom has watched that happen.

"Erin now goes more into typing everything because her handwriting is so poor and she also gets that added bonus of spell check on it when she's typing," said Nelson.

Along with the ability to read historic and primary documents and sign a check, Burkholder said learning cursive has other benefits. She said research shows that learning to write in cursive helps young students with brain functioning and fine motor skills.

Erin wishes she didn't have to miss out on any advantage.

Many schools in the Upstate do still focus on cursive lessons, but thanks to the rise in computer classes, some states, like Hawaii, Indiana and Florida, have stopped making teachers teach cursive writing. Kansas is debating the option.

One county in eastern North Carolina said its students will learn print writing until third grade, but then switch to typing.

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