Heidi Sampson found herself in a roomful of 50 newly hired teenagers and couldn’t believe it.

Only a few could sign their employment paperwork for the ski school she runs.

So she took it upon herself to teach them cursive and was struck by how many of them said they felt “deprived” of that skill.

“There is so much more to cursive than just being able to sign your name,” she said.

Sampson, a Republican House member from Alfred, introduced a bill Thursday that would require all Maine students in third through fifth grade to be taught cursive handwriting. The bill has both Republican and Democratic co-sponsors.

Sampson cited a host of reasons why teach cursive should be required: It improves fine motor skills, it increases hand-eye coordination; it improves retention of information.

“Cursive stimulates the brain in a way that typing cannot,” she said.

Although individual teachers and some school districts still teach cursive, usually starting in the third grade, Maine does not require cursive instruction as part of the statewide learning standards.

Aside from Sampson, only two people testified in favor of the bills at Thursday’s public hearing before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. One was Rosalie McGuire, a student from Parkman, who said she worried about parts of culture that are “being lost to the digital world.”

“I think it remarkably fitting that this bill be brought to you on Valentine’s Day,” McGuire said. “The perfect day to discuss such a beautiful and romantic form of art and communication.”

There was opposition to Sampson’s bill, notably from the Maine School Management Association, which represents school superintendents.

Steve Bailey, the group’s executive director, said his members didn’t object to cursive writing but to the mandate.

“This is another situation of curriculum being mandated through legislation,” he said. “In general, we oppose that.”

Bailey said there is a process to update Maine’s statewide learning results and whether to add cursive writing might better fit there.

Two other organizations, the Maine Principals’ Association and the Maine Curriculum Leaders’ Association, testified neither for nor against the bill but shared Bailey’s concerns about imposing a mandate.

Dick Durost, executive director of the principals’ association, said members had a “spirited conversation” about the bill but decided to stay neutral.

Heidi McGinley, executive director of the curriculum leaders’ group, said her members were not opposed to the concept but rather to the idea of asking already overloaded elementary school teachers to worry about one more thing.

Cursive, once ubiquitous in schools, has fallen out of favor as computers have played a bigger role in education.

But there are signs that it may be making a comeback.

Fourteen states require instruction of cursive writing, with Alabama and Louisiana passing laws just last year. In Mississippi classrooms this year, students must be tested on cursive, adding a layer to an earlier state law requiring instruction.

Sampson said the benefits of learning cursive are too great to ignore and she doesn’t want to see it “relegated to the trash heap.”

Beyond the practical applications, she said, cursive gives children an opportunity to express themselves in an individualized way.

The education committee will hold a work session on Sampson’s bill, L.D. 387, before voting whether or not to advance it. The bill also could be folded into the ongoing discussion about updates to the statewide learning results.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell


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