February 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Look closely. Bet you can’t even read it. The strong, curvaceous loops of the “L” intersect just a little too closely with …is that an “o”? It hooks right up with … “z”…something? In it, though, there is a sense of beauty in the slants, the graceful curves.

Too bad this beautiful writing form is practically dead. Cursive seems destined for the same literary fate as the typewriter.

Freshman Colby Gomes is part of that generation that is no longer charmed by cursive writing. On a recent day at Millard West High School, he tossed an example essay back to his English teacher with a laugh. I can’t read this,” he said. “Why not?” “Because it’s in cursive,” Gomes responded.

Reading teacher Diane Eubanks started noticing this trend in her sixth grade classes at Alice Buffett Middle School. Eubanks has been teaching for 26 years, first at the King Science and Technology Magnet Center. She used to write nothing but cursive on the board, and it was a deep part of the curriculum. “Now, I can’t because they [students] can’t read it,” Eubanks says. “It really did surprise me. I do understand it, but it is kind of sad.”

She believes that out of her 200 or so students, only 10 can read and write cursive.

The Common Core State Standards for many public schools have omitted cursive as a necessity even though it has been linked to higher cognitive skills in memory and brain development. Nebraska along with Texas, Alaska, and Virginia has not adopted the standards. Some states such as Hawaii have even dropped cursive completely so students can learn 21st century skills such as keyboarding.

Unlike Omaha Public Schools, which concentrate on cursive writing during the last semesters of third grade, the Catholic Schools of Omaha require an entire year of focus.

Kim Abts, a teacher’s assistant at St. Roberts Bellarmine, was shocked when a public school transfer student still could not write or read cursive in the fourth grade. “I think I’ve taken it for granted,” Abts says. “I thought that was just a normal, natural thing.”

Abts says after third grade, students are not allowed to print. For example, Unlike Eubanks, teachers at St. Roberts still write cursive on the board as well.

Eubanks believes teachers just have limited time to teach handwriting. In addition, most students rarely write anything anymore because everything is on some sort of computer. “Technology has made us somewhat brain-dead,” Gomes says.

Gomes recalls learning handwriting clear back in the third grade at Willowdale, but now he uses it to sign only his name. He believes cursive is just too complicated for his generation. “We don’t want to take the time to make the loopy-doops,” he explains.

Wyatt Spethman, a fifth grader at Whitetail Creek in Gretna, disagrees. He believes cursive is faster plus it looks “fancier.” Spethman boasts his handwriting is good and accepts the challenge to write, “I love donuts.” When he tries, though, he pauses. He explains he does not know how to make a capital “I.”

“I just forgot about it,” he says shrugging.

Reminiscing about her 26 years of teaching, Eubanks still recalls the beautifully scrawled handwriting of former students. “It is a lost art, really,” she says, sighing.

Perhaps this epitaph will be etched into cursive’s tombstone. In print.

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