OTTUMWA — Parents attending school 30 years ago knew penmanship was important. But their kids may not see why they should study penmanship — nor may they have to.
"It's that whole ongoing debate as far as teaching cursive writing," said Davis Eidahl, superintendent of the Ottumwa school district. "With the emphasis on keyboarding, educators have asked themselves [whether] cursive writing is as necessary [as in the past.]"
In Ottumwa, they teach both handwriting and keyboarding.
"It's not to replace anything, but we know in today's world, they're going to be asked to keyboard," said Missy Carson-Roark, principal of Horace Mann Elementary School. "We get kids in the computer lab in kindergarten. They are exposed to the keyboard, the mouse and how to access information on computers. By second grade, we're asking them to type. But we're still working on handwriting. We continue to embed that [requirement beginning] in third grade."
But there's only so much time to teach, and Eidahl acknowledged that there may be less emphasis placed on writing long-hand than there was in the past.
"How much time do you spend, especially with [federal testing mandates demanding only] higher math and reading scores, teachers want every possible minute for other teaching [more in line with] the Iowa core. There is a debate in education."
“The debate is national,” said Steve Berlin, spokesman for the National Association of State Boards of Education.
Last September, the association issued a policy statement. Titled “The Handwriting Debate,” it acknowledged the impact of digital technology on writing and reading: “(W)ith the proliferation of personal computers in the 1990s and smartphones and tablets in the 21st century, many educators and policymakers have been questioning the usefulness of spending ever-more-valuable class time teaching handwriting to students who have been born into — and will live and work in — a digital world.”