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California is mandating cursive handwriting instruction in elementary schools

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Have you written a letter or signed your name and then stopped, self-conscious about the state of your cursive? Can anyone really read this? Should I start over? Maybe I should just scribble something. Maybe just print. Is this what happens when you don't practice your cursive?

AYAN PATIENCE: I don't like it. Because what's the point of teaching another way how to write when we already know how to write normally?

RASCOE: That's 9-year-old Ayan Patience, the son of WEEKEND EDITION producer Martin Patience. He's learning cursive in his Catholic school in Maryland.

AYAN: It's like writing in Spanish, like another language.

RASCOE: While Ayan does enjoy his Spanish lessons along with science, he feels cursive is harder to read and only something people did in the past.

AYAN: I think of it as old. Like, a lot of kids used to use it about 40, 50 years ago.

RASCOE: Well, thank you, Ayan. Cursive was once something everyone learned. That changed as society became more computer-driven, leading many schools in the U.S. to drop it from the curriculum. But there's been a bit of a rebound. Just this year, California joined 22 other states requiring public school students to learn all those loops and strokes.

TYARA BROOKS: It is an art, and it allows students to take ownership of their handwriting, and it gives a unique imprint of who they are.

RASCOE: That's Tyara Brooks, who teaches fourth grade at Longfellow Elementary Magnet School in Pasadena, Calif. She always loved learning cursive. She says her sister, mother, and even her uncles all had beautiful cursive writing.

BROOKS: And while most kids might have been outside playing, I was often inside practicing my handwriting, so it was just something that I loved to do. And I want to bring that into the classroom with my students.

RASCOE: Ms. Brooks has a cursive alphabet up on the wall and says her students are excited to learn it. And the most frequent question she gets at the beginning of each school year is this.

BROOKS: Are we going to learn cursive this year? And when I get to say yes, then the smiles come on to their faces.

EMILY YEPEZ: I enjoy it very much. It gives me an opportunity to learn stuff that I haven't learned before.

RASCOE: Emily Yepez is in Ms. Brooke's class. She likes writing the word the because it's short and fun. The lowercase k - not so much. But Emily likes cursive so much that she does her homework in cursive, even if it's not required. When she hands it in to Ms. Brooks...

EMILY: She doesn't really say anything, but I can kind of tell that she enjoys it.

ERICA INGBER: I've been in education long enough to know that the pendulum swings back and forth all the time.

RASCOE: Erica Ingber is the principal of Longfellow Elementary in Pasadena. She says as a kid, she struggled with cursive because she didn't see the point of it.

INGBER: If I didn't find importance in what was being taught, I didn't put any attention towards it or effort.

RASCOE: Ingber says the new California law states practical reasons for learning cursive, like giving kids an individual signature and giving them the ability to read old letters and historical documents. She likes that teachers can convey that message and get kids excited about learning.

INGBER: Definitely that relationship piece is something that I feel has evolved and is so, so important in teaching and learning.

RASCOE: As for our cursive skeptic, Ayan Patience - he does see the value in writing this way, but only on certain occasions.

BROOKS: I would use cursive, like, if I'm sending a note to somebody special to me, like my grandmother or grandfather.

RASCOE: And I bet they'd think it was special too. Now I got to get my pen out and do some practice work. You know, I'm left-handed (laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.