Senator persists in pursuing penmanship

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, February 26, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS – After three failed attempts, Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, is again trying to write penmanship requirements back into school standards, this time telling her colleagues, “I told you so.”

Earlier this week, as the Senate took up the measure, Leising heard from colleagues whose children or grandchildren cannot decipher the cursive writing in handwritten notes. One child couldn’t make out his grandmother’s promise of much-coveted tickets to the NCAA Men’s Final Four tournament here in April.

“He couldn’t read the note and was disappointed because his grandmother usually sends money,” Leising said.

“The reality is we now have kids exactly as we predicted,” she said. “They’re not able to read cursive because they’re not taught cursive or not using it at all.”

Her arguments to colleagues were persuasive enough that the Senate again voted to reverse a 2011 decision by the state Board of Education to make lessons in cursive optional while requiring schools to teach keyboarding.

Penmanship was dropped from the elementary school requirement as the state embraced Common Core standards.

This time, Leising’s bill has support of teachers’ unions. Representatives from the Indiana State Teachers Association and the Indiana chapter of the American Federation of Teachers testified about benefits of putting pen to paper.

Along with Leising, they cited studies that show learning to write in cursive improves brain development in the areas of thinking, language and memory.

But the push for penmanship get a chillier reception on the other side of the Capitol, where it looks as though her effort may again be blocked as it travels to the House.

Earlier this week, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he’s yet to decide whether to take up the bill in the House Education Committee, a critical first step needed to keep it alive.

Behning has blocked the bill every previous time, labeling it an effort to “micromanage” local schools. He noted that schools still have the option to teach handwriting if their school boards mandate it.

Indiana was one of at least 41 states that let go of cursive writing requirements with the advent of Common Core and its emphasis on teaching skills needed for the 21st century.

Some states are rolling back those decisions as they walk away from the Common Core, as Indiana has done. Late last week, Arkansas lawmakers ordered their schools to teaching cursive again.

Critics of Leising’s bill say handwriting is increasingly obsolete in a digital world.

But she’s no Ludditte. She frequently sends texts and uses an iPad to check email and read bills online.

She’s also still signing her name and penning notes to her assistant on sticky pads.

So far, Leising’s constituents seem to support her. When she’s polled them, 95 percent say they want handwriting back in their schools, she said.

“Popular opinion is on my side of this issue,” she said.