Does Cursive Need to Be Taught in the Digital Age?


Just like summertime temperatures, the cursive debate is heating up — especially now that the newly established Common Core standards don’t include the curly, looped handwriting style children have learned in penmanship classes for generations.

In response, some state legislatures are seeking to make it compulsory, like North Carolina where the senate passed a bill to make cursive a requirement in public schools. Supporters of the “Back to Basics” legislation, which passed 37-8 and also requires North Carolina students to memorize multiplication tables, said that cursive is important to know even in the age of keyboards and digital devices.

“[Students] have the right to know the same types of things we knew when we were coming along,” Republican Sen. Austin Allran, the bill’s sponsor, told the Charlotte Observer.

Those who argue for cursive insist that it teaches fine motor skills, is faster and more efficient than printed handwriting, and that it enhances the creative process and has other cognitive benefits. In addition, many historical documents will be illegible if people can’t read in cursive.

“Cursive writing is a long-held cultural tradition in this country and should continue to be taught; not just for the sake of tradition, but also to preserve the history of our nation,” Jimmy Bryant, director of archives and special collections at the University of Central Arkansas, told The New York Times.

Opponents say it’s time to let cursive be written into the pages of history.

“As we have done with the abacus and the slide rule, it is time to retire the teaching of cursive. The writing is on the wall,” Morgan Polikoff, an assistant education professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, argued in a New York Times opinion piece.

While the topic is polarizing, there are some people who fall into the middle, like Kate Gladstone, a handwriting expert and educator quoted on the topic of handwriting in publications as diverse as The New York Times to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Gladstone believes that cursive should be taught in our schools – but only to be read, not written.

“Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print,” Gladstone says. “Writing cursive, however, takes much, much more time and effort to master, even sketchily.”

Should educators take the time to teach children how to first draw and eventually to write these elaborate letters when there is so much more substantive curriculum? Gladstone says no because it’s not a worthwhile return on the investment of time and energy.

What’s more, most adults abandon cursive writing for a hybrid of mostly print letters joined occasionally in a cursive style. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.

“When even most handwriting teachers give up cursive, why would anyone else continue to exalt it?” Gladstone asks.

Handwriting matters, she says, and offers fine motor skills and cognitive benefits whether in cursive or not. But she insists that children should be taught efficient handwriting, which research shows is most legible and efficient when it combines print, or manuscript, and cursive letters.

Cursive isn’t required for legal documents, either. In state and federal law, Gladtone says, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind.

So is the writing on the wall for cursive? asked its Facebook fans – K-12 educators from all over the country. We got an overwhelming response – almost 800 comments. The verdict? Keep cursive writing in schools. Here’s what some of our fans had to say:

  • Get the high stakes testing out of elementary schools, and we’ll have time to teach cursive writing again!
  • The Constitution of the United States is written in cursive. Think about that. I make my kids at least learn to read cursive.
  • Not everyone has a computer and printer.
  • Absolutely teach cursive. Teach everything possible, exercise those brains, grow neurons, every little bit of knowledge helps us THINK!
  • Handwriting is much more personal and I still prefer it on cards and in mailed letters. I use it for people I really care about on special occasions and other appropriate times.That being said, most of my day-to-day communication, including this post, is on a laptop.
  • For most of us, cursive is faster than printing. Speed is often the difference between getting the facts down correctly during note-taking, and trying to figure out or remember what the first part of the note referred to. Since note-taking remains part of the academic experience, and notes are often shared/compared, it’s nice to have consistency for readability–especially for one’s self.
  • I’m glad I learned cursive and know how to teach it. It is much faster for taking notes in a class and you can write really classy thank you notes. Manuscript is important, too, for clarity in filling out forms. Learn both and don’t always rely on a keyboard.

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