Saving history through cursive

Saving history through cursive

Linda Jennings, above, says there's something special about handwritten notes, as opposed to typed up letters. "I think we save the things that are being handwritten. It's almost like this person is on the paper," she said.
Educational Initiative at Hearthside House preserving history with cursive classes

LINCOLN – It’s a skill local advocates say society can’t afford to erase.

Once a requirement in classrooms, the ability to read and write in cursive, they fear, has become all but obsolete in schools.

“If they can’t write it, they can’t read it. If they can’t read it, they won’t know the importance of it. If they don’t know the importance of it, they’ll throw it away,” said Kathy Hartley, of Lincoln.

She said she worries generations won’t know how to read historical documents, like the Declaration of Independence, or handwritten letters and artifacts passed down in families.

Hartley serves as the president of Friends of Hearthside, a nonprofit, all-volunteer group set to soon launch a cursive writing program as part of an educational initiative headed by Nancy Poon, a retired teacher.

Poon, a Cumberland resident who worked as a teacher in Lincoln, most recently at Northern Lincoln Elementary School before her retirement, will work with educators Linda Jennings, of Rehoboth, Mass., and Lydia Mattera, of Cumberland, to see to it that cursive writing is taught – and history preserved.

The three women said cursive writing in schools has been disappearing, and teachers have limited time, if any at all, to add the instruction in while also teaching to Common Core standards and preparing students for standardized tests.

Cursive writing is no longer an instructional requirement, and Hartley said just a few states are required to teach units on cursive writing: North Carolina, Tennessee, California, South Carolina, Kansas, Idaho and Massachusetts.

Jennings, a Lincoln native, said teachers have so much material to cover during the school day and cramming in Common Core work, that “something had to go.”

With the cursive program at the Hearthside House, the women are intent on showing students not only how to write in cursive, but also to read old documents, like the several artifacts and letters on display in the historic building at 677 Great Road.

Hartley said there are more than a dozen youth guides at the Hearthside House museum, and said some in their teens don’t know how to read letters written in cursive that discuss the history of the building.

She, like the educators who will lead the cursive program at Hearthside, said it’s troubling to think that younger generations might come across personal documents, like letters passed down as family heirlooms, and toss them because they don’t know how to read them to understand the significance behind them.

“Imagine … grandchildren finding those boxes of letters in the attic ...” she said, trailing off.

The most meaningful letters, the group of women maintain, are the ones that are handwritten and not typed out. Jennings mentioned her aunt’s love letters she found from the 1940s, and what a discovery it was to stumble across them.

“I think we save the things that are being handwritten. It’s almost like this person is on the paper,” said Jennings, who taught in Providence public schools for decades before retiring.

Hartley also noted that writing things down on paper yields better memory of the content, as opposed to typing up notes like a stenographer.

Each of the retired teachers said they used to incorporate cursive writing into the school day, but said there wasn’t necessarily a unit on cursive writing, or direct instruction time on the subject.

Despite that, the teachers said, students were intrigued.

Poon said that while teaching 3rd grade before retiring, students did not ask how to write in cursive, but she’d notice them attempt writing their names in cursive.

“There was definitely a drive there,” she said.

Jennings said no one ever directed her to teach students cursive writing.

“It was just something I knew kids had to do,” she said.

Jennings, Poon and Mattera have been sorting through cursive writing workbooks and tools, preparing for the first class on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

One-hour classes will be held twice a week at the Hearthside House, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and run for 14 classes, Hartley said.

The class is geared for students ages 8 to 12, Poon said, and the class size will be limited to eight students at $15 each per week.

The educators said they’re looking forward to meeting students and teaching them the skills needed for cursive writing and reading, but said they want to make the classes fun.

Original plans called for the classes to be taught at the historic Hot Potato Schoolhouse at Chase Farm, but the building is being restored and will take some time until the house is completed and furnished.

Hartley, Poon, Mattera and Jennings said they’re hoping to host a few classes at the end of the cursive writing session in the circa-1850 building once it’s ready for programs and school tours.

It will bring things full circle in a way, they said, to be teaching cursive in a one-room schoolhouse.

To learn more about the program, visit www.hearthsidehouse.org , email info@hearthsidehouse.org or call 401-726-0597.

Lydia Mattera, of Cumberland, left, Linda Jennings, of Rehoboth, Mass., center, and Nancy Poon of Cumberland, all retired educators, will lead cursive writing and reading classes at the Hearthside House in Lincoln.