Cursive No More?

Jeremy R. asks: Why do we still teach kids to write in cursive when it’s almost literally never used anymore except in signatures, which are also becoming a thing of the past thanks to e-signing and advancements in payment options? I mean, even teaching kids any handwriting skills is bound to go the way of the Dodo at some point in the next century as we go further into the digital age. Can we at least start with ceasing wasting their time with cursive and use that valuable educational time to teach them something more useful?  Every hour kids spend in school costs taxpayers massive sums of money.  The long term benefit to society is worth the money and more most of the time, but in this case, they’d be better off just cutting it out and shortening the school day for kids who are supposed to be learning cursive.

cursiveAs more schools begin implementing digital classrooms, writing, and in particular cursive writing, has become increasingly unimportant – even excluded from core curricula. While many mourn the death of penmanship, others see it as a reasonable adaptation to the demands of a 21st century education.

Today, cursive is not required in many states, and the much-maligned Common Core Standards ignore the subject completely (although keyboarding is a requirement). Often seen as inessential, not just cursive, but penmanship in general is frequently left by the wayside.

Many educators accept the coming obsolescence of cursive and acknowledge that the “traditional skill . . . has been replaced with technology.” With only so many hours in the day, elementary school teachers have been forced to eliminate those subjects that aren’t urgently-needed in order to cover all the now-required basics. As one 4th grade teacher noted: “It’s a time issue. It just takes so much time to teach it.”

Some believe this is a mistake, and that learning to write in cursive helps with the development of fine motor skills, memory and other brain functions as well as hand-eye coordination. In addition, many educators claim that the “fluidity of cursive,” improves comprehension and spelling, though one might argue that the latter is also something increasingly less important (to some extent) in the age of spell check.

Furthermore, it’s becoming increasingly evident that those who are never taught to write in cursive are often unable to read it, even when (seemingly rarely) written neatly; this has alarmed some who worry that tomorrow’s average citizen, unless cursive is reintroduced into the classroom, will be unable to read copies of important historical documents. Of course, few today can read Ancient Greek, Latin, or, more recently, Old English, without any real negative impact on society…

Special education professionals note that cursive writing is a useful therapy for dyslexia, as the left to right fluidity helps with correctly forming words. Other educators claim that the neater a child’s handwriting, the greater the likelihood that she will also developed better math and reading skills, though this is up for debate.

In a recent poll by Harris Interactive (funded by Mega Brands America, a pencil maker, and conducted online, so take the results with a horse-sized grain of salt), 79% of adults and 68% of school-age children thought that cursive should still be taught in schools, particularly since most perceive those who are unable to read and write in cursive as less intelligent, at least, according to the poll.

While the results of that poll may be suspect, a slightly better indicator that at least the latter may be true is that a recent College Board report noted that SAT essays that were written in cursive received higher scores when compared with those that were printed. Whether this is because the graders also viewed those who could write neatly in cursive as more intelligent, skewing their scoring, or whether it is simply because students who have taken the time to become experts at cursive writing may have also taken the time to become better educated elsewhere (or are naturally more intelligent) isn’t clear without further study.

Those who still teach cursive have found ways to make learning such penmanship over already learned print writing fun, and point out that many children enjoy the process of learning to write in cursive. One 3rd grader noted, “I like doing it. It’s cool and fancy. It’s faster because you write all the letters together.” These teachers also note that some kids are motivated by their perceived future fame: “If you’re going to be a famous soccer player, you need a signature for autographs.”

Apparently in agreement with this sentiment, a handful of states, including California, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Tennessee, have all recently passed laws requiring that cursive be taught in public schools.

Others disagree and claim that the inability to read and write in cursive would have no negative effect on a person in the modern era. Further, leaving it out of a student’s education could be beneficial if that time was used to learn things more relevant to the 21st century. As one professor of education noted concerning the topic of cursive, “I can’t remember the last time I read the Constitution.”

In accord, apparently, is Indiana House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning who has refused for three years in a row to allow an overwhelming popular cursive-writing bill to be brought to the full Indiana House. In fact, in January 2014, after it was passed by a vote of 39-9 in the Indiana Senate, Representative Behning declined the legislation, claiming it was “micromanaging.”

So, what do you think?  Should cursive still be taught in schools or not? You can share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • When i forst heard that claim about cursive users gettingslightler higher SAT svres, I asked the College Board/ETS abuot it. Theor resesrchers showed me that the average score difference berween cursive users and other students is … 2/5 of a point (which is oess, fir insane, than the averate score dofference between male and female students taking the exam).
    .
    Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)
    .
    More recently, it has also been documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.
    This is what I’d expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive poses even more difficulties than print-writing. (Contrary to myth, reversals in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my caseload, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”)
    .
    — According to comparative studies of handwriting speed and legibility in different forms of writing, the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive — although they are not absolute print-writers either. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all: joining only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.
    .
    Reading cursive still matters — but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too. Reading cursive, simply reading it, can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print. (There’s even an iPad app teaching kids and others to read cursive, whether or not they write it or ever will write it. The app — “Read Cursive” — is a free download. Those who are rightly concerned with the vanishing skill of cursive reading may wish to visit appstore.com/readcursive for more information.)
    .
    We don’t require our children to learn to make their own pencils (or build their own printing presses) before we teach them how to read and write. Why require them to write cursive before we teach them how to read it? Why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as a form of handwriting that is actually typical of effective handwriters?
    Just as each and every child deserves to be able to read all kinds of everyday handwriting (including cursive), each and every one of our children — dyslexic or not — deserves to learn the most effective and powerful strategies for high-speed high-legibility handwriting performance.
    .
    Teaching material for practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive which is venerated by too many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown: http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/curriculum.html )
    .
    Even in the USA and Canada, educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
    (If you would like to take part in another, ongoing poll of handwriting forms — not hosted by a publisher, and not restricted to teachers — visit http://www.poll.fm/4zac4 for the One-Question Handwriting Survey, created by this author. As with the Zaner-Bloser teacher survey, so far the results show very few purely cursive handwriters — and even fewer purely printed writers. Most handwriting in the real world — 75% of the response totals, so far — consists of print-like letters with occasional joins.)
    .
    When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why glorify it?
    .
    Believe it or not, some of the adults who themselves write in an occasionally joined but otherwise print-like handwriting tell me that they are teachers who still insist that their students must write in cursive, and/or who still teach their students that all adults habitually and normally write in cursive and always will. (Given the facts on our handwriting today, this is a little like teaching kids that our current president is Richard Nixon.)
    .
    What, I wonder, are the educational and psychological effects of teaching, or trying to teach, something that the students can probably see for themselves is no longer a fact?
    Cursive’s cheerleaders (with whom I’ve had some stormy debates) sometimes allege that cursive has benefits which justify absolutely anything said or done to promote that form of handwriting. The cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly state (sometimes in sworn testimony before school boards and state legislatures) that cursive cures dyslexia or prevents it, that it makes you pleasant and graceful and intelligent, that it adds brain cells, that it instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or that it confers numerous other blessings which are no more prevalent among cursive users than among the rest of the human race. Some claim research support — citing studies that invariably prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.
    .
    So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident as soon as others examined the claimed support:

    /1/ either the claim provides no source,

    or

    /2/ if a source is cited, and anyone checks it out, the source turns out to have been misquoted or incorrectly paraphrased by the person citing it
    
    or

    /3/ the claimant correctly quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.
    .
    Cursive devotees’ eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are commonly made — under oath — in testimony before school districts, state legislatures, and other bodies voting on educational measures. The proposals for cursive are, without exception so far, introduced by legislators or other spokespersons whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — although investigative reporting of the questionable testimony does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when the discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill? (Documentation on request: I am willing to be interviewed by anyone who is interested in bringing this serious issue inescapably before the public’s eyes and ears.)
    .
    By now, you’re probably wondering: “What about cursive and signatures? Will we still have legally valid signatures if we stop signing our names in cursive?” Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
     Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.
    .
    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.
    .
    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.
    .
    SOURCES:
    .
    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
    Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED056015

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /3/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    Ongoing handwriting poll: http://poll.fm/4zac4

    The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):
    https://www.hw21summit.com/research-harman-james

    Background on our handwriting, past and present:
    3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —
    http://youtu.be/3kmJc3BCu5g

    TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —
    http://youtu.be/s_F7FqCe6To

    HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
    (shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —
    http://youtu.be/Od7PGzEHbu0

    .
    Yours for better letters,
    .
    Kate Gladstone
    .
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
    [email protected]

  • Melissa

    It is extremely sad to me the things that are being left out of basic learning in order to make way for “today’s technology”. Contrary to popular belief, not everything is signed over the internet quite yet. Sometimes you still have to put it to paper. I hate to break it to you young folk, but in this day and age you still have to be able to actually sign–not print–your name. Yet today kids have no clue how to sign their name. They can’t tell time on a clock with hands either. Heck, they can barely tie their shoes thanks to Velcro. Ridiculous! As far as I’m concerned the fact that kids are not being taught the bare–and still needed–necessities, is yet another sign this country is going down the toilet. UNTIL the very day we actually live in a world where clocks have NO hands and EVERYTHING is signed over the net, I believe those things should still be taught to children. I think the reason they aren’t being taught anymore has not as much to do with technology as it does with SOL’s and making sure the schools get accredited. School accreditation=more government money for school which doesn’t mean that your child is getting a better education at all. Just saying.

    • Bob

      Luddite

  • Susan Mills

    If you can’t read original documents you have to rely on others versions of what those documents say. How easy it will be to change history. Who would question the new official version? Who could question it? The true document will be lost to us along with our history.

    • Roger C

      But who is to say that when a person prints their name that it does not constitute a signature? I believe it is still legal to simply sign with an X, so if that can be my signature then simply printing my name can also be my signature. The Republicans have tried many ways to regress our culture back to the 1850s but as far as I know they have not yet gotten a bill passed and signed into law that requires my signature to be in cursive.

    • Jenny wheeler

      Good point. Take the constitution foe example

    • Bob

      academics will know how to read it..

  • dora

    I think it is stupid not to teach cursive writing in school. When these children get out of school they will be like a dumb box of rocks..not everyone will be able to have or afford computers or the internet and in case of an emergency they may have to read something in cursive. Schools don’t teach history….what is wrong with this country

    • Roger C

      But who is to say that when a person prints their name that it does not constitute a signature? I believe it is still legal to simply sign with an X, so if that can be my signature then simply printing my name can also be my signature. The Republicans have tried many ways to regress our culture back to the 1850s but as far as I know they have not yet gotten a bill passed and signed into law that requires my signature to be in cursive.

    • Bob

      What kind of emergency?

  • Judy Heathcoe

    Although I don’t agree with it all, some of the arguments against cursive makes sense. But doesn’t it also make sense to stop teaching mathematics because we have calculators? Should we stop teaching articles because we have cameras? Should we stop teaching history because there’s so much of it we should just focus on the last hundred or so years? Instead of telling a child to read couldn’t we just give him an audio book? Couldn’t we just sit students in front of a t.v. an let them watch the discovery channel, the history channel? Should we send kids to school at all? Oh,right! We need a babysitter so we can go to work. If teaching cursive takes so long (it really can be taught in a month ) why not teach it in fourth grade at the end of the year? My granddaughter basically played the last two months of school. And if instead they will be taught keyboarding, when? I have yet to see it. Perhaps a better approach is to teach cursive in middle school or Jr. High as an elective. There’s an artistic value to it at least. Not everyone will take the higher maths except those with exceptional minds, not everyone will pursue expansive history except those with a broader interest, not everyone needs to learn cursive but everyone who wants to should be able to.

    • Thank you Judy. You are spot on. I “wrote” a letter to my granddaughter’s boyfriend while he was in Army basic training. He told my granddaughter to have me “print” when I write to him again because he could not read all of the letter. So I told him I would “print” him a letter in a few days I will send him a calculator so he can figure out how many days that is. Has anyone thought it will be easier to forge someone’s signature? I don’t think a printed love letter would be very romantic.
      They say there is not time to teach cursive. So many of our younger generation is getting in trouble so besides giving them community service have them sit down and “write” what they have done for his community and read it to the judge or probation officer. Just like they say… Just sayin.

    • Bob

      Math is a body of concepts. Cursive is a faster way of writing. They are different. Please avoiding conflating the two in the future.

  • Aaron White

    Of all the comments on this thread, Judy Heathcoe’s seems the most spot on. For me, the fact that Common Core has abandoned cursive as a requirement tells me that the “we don’t have time to teach cursive” excuse doesn’t hold water. The ability to write and read cursive is fundamental. It is a form of written communication that has been in use for literally hundreds of years. And we’re going to abandon that now, simply because “technology” has made handwriting nearly obsolete? What a myopic and limited view of things. — While I appreciate technology just as much as the next person, the fact that we are coming to rely more and more upon technology is horrifying to me. What? Do all of us honestly believe that all this great technology will be available one day? What if “the grid” goes down at some point and is down for months, years or even indefinitely? You may call that doomsaying, but I call it “preparing for the worst and hoping for the best”. If you’re a believing Christian, you know there are “end times” coming; and what if those end times take us back 100 or more years from our precious technological revolution? Even for the non-Christian or non-faith out there, do you really want to place all your confidence and ability to communicate, conduct business, learn, research and generally relate to the world and others around you in a vehicle which has 100% dependence upon electricity? Are you willing to be just one short generation away from a population that cannot read documents handwritten just 50 to 75 years prior? — As for those who are citing research that cursive is no faster to write than “printing”… I call total and complete BS on that “research”. I challenge anyone to write faster in print than I can in cursive (and yes, legibly) any day of the week and twice on Sundays. — Sadly, the authors primary point seems to lean in the direction of this total dependence upon technology… as if just sometime next week we’ll all be communicating solely with the tips of our fingers on a keyboard. It is absolutely proven that we mentally retain more when we write something (by hand… printing, cursive… probably doesn’t matter) than when we type it or record and listen to it. If cursive goes the way of the dinosaur, how much longer before handwriting is not taught at all and we simply stick keyboard/keypads/touch screens in front of our infants and toddlers? — The conspiracy theorist in me feels that eliminating cursive is dangerously close to the burning book philosophy of the Nazi’s and the resistance to translating scriptures of the Luther era which was designed to do one and only one thing… keep the elites in power and the “rest of us” in ignorance. — I couldn’t imagine someone not being able to read the US Constitution or the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights or the Magna Carta, etc… in their ORIGINAL forms… but be dependent upon typewritten copies. Ugh… this article and some of the comments just chill me to the bone.

    • I have demonstrated to others (and would willingly demonstrate to you) that I can write faster in print-writing than most people can in equally legible cursive … and faster still in a semi-joined print-like writing.

      Further, as my letter mentioned, READING cursive remains essential and can be taught directly (without letting it depend on having learned to write the same way).

    • Bob

      Wow, you sound like Socrates. He was distrustful of written philosophy. He was a champion of the forum and well-spoken arguments. Imagine had Plato followed poor Socrates on this particular point. We’d still be orating most of our school lessons.

      ABSURD.

      Keyboards are here to stay. Get used to it.

  • K M

    This sets such a dangerous precedence but the youth and short sighted are too ignorant to see it. The problem with this idea is that you are eliminating a form of communication from society. There will be those select few who still possess this knowledge or skill and they will have an advantage over the masses who are duped into thinking their computers, tablets and smartphones are the end all, be all of how to communicate. Not to mention the fact at a young age cursive exercises help develop fine motor skills.

  • Shawn S

    I’d feel like an illiterate dolt if I had to sign legal documents for a job or financials with printing and not a real signature.

    • Bob

      This is probably where most of the opposition emanates: feelings of parents. We can confidence ignore those feelings based on pre-computer experience.

  • Shawn S

    I think being perceived as less intelligent for not knowing how to read or write cursive could be an issue at least in the foreseeable future. A potential employer could think you aren’t very smart if you don’t even know how to sign your name. Filling out documents that have two lines, one for “Printed name” and another for “Signature”, would be especially awkward and/or embarrassing. If someone told me they can’t write their own name in cursive I’d instinctively think they weren’t very smart. It’s one step away from telling someone you don’t know how to read. In the future this will probably disappear, but we aren’t in that future yet.

    • Bob

      Only if it is expected.

  • Star Ostgard

    Not teaching kids cursive because of e-this-or-that is like not teaching basic math because, ya know, calculators (which explains why so many cashiers can’t make freaking change). It doesn’t take that long to teach a kid to write cursive – a few lousy minutes a day. And these arguments about never needing to sign stuff because of computer signatures yada yada yada – anyone remember the paperless society we were promised a few decades ago? Some people apparently are still believing that myth.

    • Bob

      I almost never write by hand. Maybe in 5% of situations do I have to prints. Cursive? Never. It is a waste of time.

  • Happyrock

    The dumbing down of America continues in the name of “technology”.

    • Bob

      I would say there is a dumbing down going on here, but it has nothing to do with calculators or keyboards.

      • Nora

        You are a classic computer geek. Functionally illiterate, most likely, in every other aspect of your life !

  • i think students today should be taught how to write cursive because in the future they will need to know how to write proper cursive and maybe want to read the declaration of independance some day

    • Bob

      Yes, the DOI is only written in cursive. It has not be transcribed to print text on the Internet.

      LOL

  • Julia Martines

    The thing that bothers me about the argument that few people can read Ancient Greek is that Ancient Greek is, as the name implies, ancient. Cursive is not. I may be the only one among my peers who still writes in cursive, but all of our parents write in cursive all the time. Sure, you can find a typed transcript of the US Constitution a billion different places online, but what about reading anything anyone over the age of 30 might have wrote? Maybe it won’t be a problem in 2070, and everyone will just print their signature, but right now, kids should know how to read cursive.