Should Schools Still Teach Cursive?

| June 28, 2013 | 68 Comments
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Sophomore Andrew Forbes of Nashville, Tennessee, used cursive everyday in elementary school, from third grade through eighth grade. He was required to write out all his papers, worksheets, and notes in the flowing line of slanted script. He finds cursive so much faster and easier than printing, he still uses it daily in high school.

But he gets the feeling he’s alone. “Everybody uses print. Out of all my friends, there is maybe one person who, I think, uses cursive. When they [my friends] saw that I use cursive, they were very surprised.”

Forbes might be one of the last holdouts. The decline in teaching cursive handwriting, the rise of the keyboard, and the introduction of the Common Core State Standards that do not require children to know cursive has the New York Times asking, “Is Cursive Dead?” Passionate advocates claim that cursive is a cultural tradition with cognitive and academic benefits that must be preserved, while some teachers and handwriting experts say the decline of cursive is natural, and it should be allowed to morph into a print/cursive hybrid, or bow out altogether.

Handwriting expert and founder of the World Handwriting Contest Kate Gladstone opined in the Times that handwriting is important, but it doesn’t matter whether the handwriting is cursive. “In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks,” she writes. “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 most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it?”

“It just takes so much time to teach it and there are far more important things for kids to learn now.”

Research suggests a strong connection between handwriting and brain development — not only in the development of fine motor skills, but also in how children learn. In one study conducted by psychologist and cognitive scientist Karin Harman James at Indiana University, children who printed letters instead of just seeing and saying them showed “adult” brain activity; in another, led by educational psychologist Virginia Berninger at the University of Washington, second, fourth and sixth grade students wrote better sentences, wrote more and faster when using a pen and paper as opposed to a keyboard.

But is there a benefit, a definitive connection between the connected loops of cursive and improved function of the brain? James’s preliminary research on the benefits of using cursive exclusively shows promising findings: in one study, college students remembered information better when they copied a paragraph in cursive compared to both printing and typing. James emphasized, however, that the study of cursive is just beginning, and noted that “scientists have not determined the benefits of teaching or not teaching cursive.”

OUTDATED PRACTICE?

Kids are lacking in so many skills, says retired fourth-grade teacher Barbara Kuykendall, who taught cursive handwriting for twenty years in Evansville, Indiana, she’s glad the Common Core Standards no longer require students to learn cursive. “I used to teach cursive and am glad it’s out of the curriculum now. It’s a time issue. It just takes so much time to teach it and there are far more important things for kids to learn now.” She said it would be easy to teach kids to sign their name in cursive, then leave it at that. “If none of them know cursive, it wouldn’t be as big a deal to them as it is to us.”

“I think there is value in learning a skill that that takes patience, perseverance, and diligence to master.”

And for children with developmental issues, not having the pressure of learning cursive can be a relief. Chicago mom and graphic designer Christina Kakavas’ five-year-old son Markos has dyspraxia, and works with a therapist on his fine motor skills. Markos has trouble shaping letters by hand. Kakavas discovered some iPad apps that let him trace letters with his finger or by using the trackpad on the laptop instead of holding a pencil, incorporating the best of both the digital and the handwriting worlds. “Initially, I didn’t want Markos playing games or sitting on the computer or iPad. Then I realized using the mouse or trackpad [to shape letters] would allow him to improve his fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.”

Of course, there is more to cursive handwriting than the time it takes to teach it, or the cognitive benefits of using it. Cursive’s roots are deeply embedded in cultural significance: the Declaration of Independence was written in cursive; there is the overwhelming recognition of finding a letter written in a loved one’s unique handwriting. And beyond the logistical problem of future generations not being able to read cursive, is there a reason to learn cursive for no reason at all, besides doing it for its own sake?

Marjorie Martin teaches cursive in her second-grade class at Crossroads Academy in Lyme, New Hampshire, even though she often wonders if it’s worth it. But she continues, because she believes there’s value in the process. “There aren’t too many things like this for the general population of kids anymore,” she said. “No woodworking class, the endless sawing and sanding to make a coatrack, no knitting, the frustration of needing to pull out 5 rows when you see that you dropped a stitch. I think there is value in learning a skill that that takes patience, perseverance, and diligence to master. Then, there’s also the end product to consider. We are creating a generation that won’t know how to build a simple doghouse or replace a button. But shouldn’t they be able to create a reasonably attractive handwritten note?”

Perhaps upcoming generations, equipped with ever-present handheld technology, think differently. Andrew Forbes says that, although he uses cursive for all his schoolwork (except for the final drafts of papers that must be typed), he would never think of handwriting a note to a friend. “If I’m just trying to let somebody know something, I’ll just text them, honestly. If I want to ask somebody, ‘Hey are you going to that thing?’ I’m not going to write a letter and send it to them. My phone lets me have connection a lot faster.”

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  • Suzanne Wynnell

    Common core standards for 4th grade, at least, indicate that students should be able to write fluently in cursive or connected italics. One needs to be able to respond quickly and efficiently. This also connects not only fine motor skills, but also kinesthetic learning. Finally, some college entry exams are requiring handwritten essays. Being able to write quickly and fluently is part of the writing process.

  • Jasmin S. Kuehnert

    Can’t let cursive handwriting become a dying art. Please see my post on this very topic http://academicexchange.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/the-dying-art-of-cursive-handwriting/

  • KateGladstone

    Re the paragraph beginning with “But” —
    Its link that claims to be to “James’ preliminary research” actually isn’t. The link goes to research by someone other than James, and that research doesn’t favor cursive.

    How did KQED make the decision to mislead its audience?

    • Holly K

      The linked article exactly expresses the same idea.

      • KateGladstone

        No, Holly.

        /1/ The linked article is not eventheone that was originally at that link: someone has fixed things since I mentioned it.

        /2/ Most of the linked article looks at printing versus keyboarding. That isn’t “the same idea” as printing versus cursive.

        /3/The linked article points out that “scientists have not determined the benefits of teaching or not teaching cursive.”

        /4/ I also wonder why the article (like the other piece it NOW links to) doesn’t give a citation for the printing/cursive study that it places so much weight on. I asked Dr. James herself, once, for a citation for this part of her work, and she said curtly that she was “unable” to provide it. (?!) When I asked her, further, what precautions she had taken (as a scientist) to ensure that different results for cursive vs. printing weren’t being caused by factors other than the writing style (e.g.,the possibility that we remember something better when we have to work harder to write it down in a more difficult style that we don’t normally use), she was silent for a long time — then changed the subject. I am not a scientist, and I would like scientists other than James (if they are reading this) to let me know how such behavior appears to them.

        • Holly K

          Thank you for your contribution to this article. First, the link has not changed from the time it was published. Secondly, it sounds like you’ve been in contact with James about the issue, and you raise a good point about the original. It’s definitely worth looking into, and we will follow up.

  • Warren Fried

    As the president and founder of Dyspraxia usa over 30 million us residents have the disorder. Not only is cursive hard to write and with hypotonia. Reading on a 3d piece of paper in script is nearly impossible with ocular motor Dyspraxia

    • Sunshine Anstine

      My daughter has dyspraxia, and I was concerned about shoving cursive at her in elementary school. However, it actually proved to be a great benefit. With fewer pencil lifts and repositions, it is less demanding (in terms of fine motor skills) than printing. Now an adult, she has beautiful handwriting, uses cursive the majority of the time, says that it is much easier. I wouldn’t categorically discount cursive for all people with dyspraxia.

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  • Lex Mercatoria

    Rest assured that while the Powers-That-Be(tm) promote such drivel to further dumb down the populace, these same self-anointed Elite will continue to teach their children penmanship. Then again, they would never send their offspring to the behavioral conditioning holding pens euphemistically called “public schools,” either; they created the public fool system for you and yours.

    Is anyone asking where this idea really originates from? Does anyone really think this is being promoted to *truly* help children?

    • deserteacher

      The lack of ability to write with a pen or pencil, with the inevitable lack of tech for the poorer citizens, will result in a new illiteracy.

  • deserteacher

    Cursive writing is a developmental milestone.

    • Hagit Lahav

      As an
      LD teacher I can recite research supporting cursive for LD pupils: it is great
      for the flow of writing and it helps with letter reversals (different format) and…
      It has been proven that writing enhances reading (typing isn’t). LD kids LOVE practicing
      cursive though it is not taught at all in Israel as part of teaching English as
      a foreign language.

    • Kaitlyn Fredricks

      what Angela said I’m blown away that a person able to profit $5382 in one month on the computer. have you seen this web link w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • Joe

    Case in point: a defensive witness in Florida now in the media spotlight telling the lawyer interrogating her that she could not read the letter written in cursive on her behalf. It is the new illiteracy.

    • David Laroche

      Important point! What happens if someone gives you a handwritten document to read (and you can’t)?

    • Mimi

      It’s not illiteracy if nobody else writes in cursive. It’s a dying art.

  • Jocelyn Allaire

    Handwriting adds to your personal identity…your penmanship speaks to others on a different level..a more personal connection

  • David Laroche

    What happens when you have to SIGN your name to a legal document? What happens when you do not have the technology available and need to take notes? Print? The developers of the Common Core must have had tech blinders on. There are many instances of people needing to use cursive to write efficiently and quickly. I teach HS. I allow students to use either tech or notebooks. Many use notebooks because they do not have the $$$ for the tech. Taking notes in HS or college is important since the the tech is not always available or affordable or efficient…

    • Emil Barnabas

      I learned to write cursive in the 3rd grade, then went back to printing. I print my signature on all legal documents, and print when I take notes. I’m a 54-year old teacher who has never had a problem because I stopped writing in cursive in third grade.

      • David Laroche

        Did you print in college trying to take notes? How did that work?

        • ibTexan

          It worked just fine.

          I could print faster, and more legibly, than I could ever write in cursive.

          BA in philosophy with a minor in English

          Then a degree in geology.

          Your point was….?

    • Mel

      Besides students taking notes in cursive, teachers still do some writing on the white board. Will they have to “print” everything just so that students can understand. That takes up too much time for teachers !

      • Mackintosh Rose

        That is exactly what’s happening: the teacher “in trouble” for writing cursive in communications to students.

  • Zach Pauley

    There are so many other ways to communicate with writing now that cursive takes a back seat. My daughter is entering 4th grade next year and she is so proud that she can write in cursive but I wonder when the day will arrive when she’s using her iPad or another technological advancement to “write” her assignments.

  • Rowe Young

    The sense in the mind of the feeling for the shape of making letters is important when learning how to write, read as well as learning to spell. Humans created written language with the the movement of their hands. Taking that behavior away is harming written language in general.

    • Mimi

      I disagree. We are evolving as a species and technology is part of that evolution. As we find new ways to do things, the old ways fall away. We no longer teach our children to spin wool, to ride a horse or to hunt, except as hobbies. I’m all for preserving culture but not at the expense of the time it takes to master cursive. My children were taught cursive but it didn’t stick because there wasn’t enough time devoted to it. I, on the other hand, learned cursive in parochial school where many hours were devoted to it year after year. And….I no longer use it. My handwriting is a hybrid of print and cursive and somehow I got through college and career without it.

      • leimana

        Mimi I wish at the minimum they would teach them how to at least sign their name, I bet you can MImi and that plays a huge part in college and career.

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  • Aldous

    Why teach at all? Let them learn by themselves and go back to basics: survival in a hostile environment and making babies for the sake of the species. Let’s ditch culture, history, arts, ancient languages, let’s burry the past, our ancestors and all their achievement, let’s only live the present and don’t let’s worry too much about the future. Who cares about philosophy and personal devlopment, the year is 105 A.F, for Ford’s sake! What we need is lots of ‘Gamma’, ‘Delta’, ‘Epsilon’. Let them drink soma!

  • Victor

    Both my father and I have very similar handwriting, as well as block printing. It was difficult for either of us to perform cursive. I was denied music and dance when I was in the fourth grade because my arithmetic and reading skills where below normal. The Palmer Method was a form of torture. I do not have the capacity to make the same loop over and over and over, and I was tormented because of that. Numbers do not stick, and my reading is still slow at age 60. I am earning a BA in Communications Design with the help of modern accommodations. My Accessibility Resource Center converts my textbooks to pdf and I have my computer read them to me. I would never be able to keep up without this. Cursive is an art form. Some people are good at it. Others are not. As for the benefits of pursuing a discipline, I play piano. Forcing a child to do something sh/he will never be able to do is cruel.

  • suefried

    Kids need to learn cursive. Anyone who as watched a child learn to write – to become the letter, to repeat the letter over and over as they write it, to hum the letter, sing to it. Keep teaching our kids how to write!

  • Brooks

    What is easier to read? Why? Technology forced the invention of cursive. Prior to the quill pen, dip and write..And The fountain pen…it was charcoal and printed type. If you tried to print you would have dip and blob…thus the need to continue recording till needing to dip again. The invention of the ball point pen was the first step in the decline of cursive. But cultural practices since the invention of the quill dip where practiced for over two thousand years. Technology, the printed word, Gutenberg printing press allowed the expansion and spread of knowledge and thus learning to all over time, not in cursive for a reason. We are in the same place as a result of the printed circuit board (interesting they called it printed huh?) the same arguements for the development of thought while writing is happening with the typed or dictated world we are emerging into and soon to the mere thought to recording those thoughts in memory cards etc. Cursive is an art form now appreciated by some and not by others. The inevitability of its end started long ago.

    Signing documents, anyone buy real estate lately, sign papers electronically? Soon, that will be finger print, chip sign, code or other possibly voice signature.

    It’s a great time to live

    I am 53 years old.

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  • http://www.janaleemiller.com/ Jana @333 Days Hand Lettering

    Cursive is art form and should be included in the art curriculum if at all. I agree that students shouldn’t be required to learn cursive. We can’t keep adding things to the curriculum without refining it and taking things out. I’ve seen my 5th grade students struggle with cursive when they don’t even have time to learn their math facts or while they have really poor tying skills.

    The curriculum has to evolve to fit our changing world.

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  • Tracey Nangle

    It is not about whether or not you continue to use cursive in your own life. It is about the process of learning cursive and the impact it has on your brain. You have to focus, you have to slow down, you have to consciously direct your hand to perform intricate movements. There is value in that for the development of a child’s brain and abilities. There is also the whole idea of creativity, personal expression, the process of physical creation of a product. Why is it all or nothing?

  • Anonjames

    I’ve written all of my school notes and essays (in class) during my entire education. I am 27 years old. Its faster, cleaner easier to read and write. I don’t understand why we wouldn’t teach this to our children.

  • Phraustt

    I honestly don’t see why people think cursive is such a necessity. The only practical argument I’ve seen presented is the slight increase in speed it brings to most people; however, if you can’t print fast enough to keep up with a lecture while note-taking, then you have a bit of a problem. Not to mention, print is easier to read for almost everyone.

    I come from a very practical school of thought. I think if cursive is taught at all it should be done in art class; it doesn’t belong in the primary curriculum, especially not at this point in time when such a large portion of students can’t even construct a simple sentence properly or perform multiplication.

    • Star

      What about signing documents? Cursive will make it harder to forge signatures than print.

      • Phraustt

        Much as I hate to say it, even paper documents are on their way out. As a result, this is an increasingly minimal concern. The primary issue would be with checks and such, but with more and more transactions being done via the Internet, and with improvements in anti-identity theft technology, even that problem is fading.

        In short, it is an issue now, yes, but that issue is rapidly fading.

        • Star

          And what if people don’t use technology, or can’t afford it? It seems a bit careless thinking that such technologies would be around for everyone and all the time. But I guess that’s just me. Personally I am not one who would type notes. I can write quicker than I can type lol.

          • Phraustt

            Well see, a lot of things that formerly required a signature are being phased towards electronic processing. Some of these still require some form of signature (like signing the tablet from the postman or the card reader at the store). However, the actual necessity for a cursive signature here is dubious.

            Notes are another thing. As I mentioned earlier, if you have a problem writing fast enough to keep up with your professor, then either he’s an auctioneer or you’re having a problem. Some people simply can’t print quickly and have to use cursive; in theory, these individuals could be identified early on and taught cursive during their spare time. However, it doesn’t belong in the mainstream curriculum–especially now, when our education is failing so terribly.

  • leimana

    How will they sign their name to anything (cheque. legal document, drivers licence,)? I am teaching it to my 8 year old I think of this as a necessary skill for her future.

  • DestinyRed

    If kids don’t know how to write in cursive how are they suposed to read in cursive? How many historical docutments are written in cursive? If they kids today can’t read historical doctuments the goverment can rewrite history all they want and get away with it. They are trying to make the younger generation less educated. Look back in history to other coutries where those in charge started limiting the education of its people this way. It leads to the citizens being blind to what’s going on. Common Core needs stopped in its tracks, if only everyone wasn’t so blind and ignorant and would open their eyes to what was going on before it’s too late.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Implying at some collective core that cursive as a fundamental writing style holds and weight in terms of intelligence. Less educated? You’re assuming the founding fathers & historical leaders were more educated. Yet they allowed the Slavery of a race of people, and the complete slaughter of the race that helped them survive here in the first place. Cursive doesn’t assert intelligence 3rd graders write in cursive, are 3rd graders Quantum Physicist, Doctors, or Philosophers? no They are 3rd graders. In fact most High Schools now forbid cursive because it’s basically a waste of time. I was put in special education in 4th grade because I didn’t want to learn cursive. I was labeled special through Middle & High School. Yet I Made an Advanced Score on my Final English S.O.L.(Standards of Learning) test. In which I took less than 5 minutes to complete.

  • Cmariee

    When I see how recent college grads write, it reminds me of something a third grader would produce. It is hard to take it seriously. Perhaps I am old school but printing looks very unpolished and immature and exudes no personality or creativity. It also improves a child’s fine motor skills.

  • Mrs.O

    I’m a high school English teacher. Last year, I proctored the PSAT test for a group of 10th graders. One of the requirements is that students rewrite a phrase in cursive verifying their identity. Only 30% of my students were able to write the phrase in cursive. As long as PSAT/SAT/ACT and other college tests use paper and pencil, students will need to know how to write in cursive.

    • Dr. Linguistics

      Teaching to the test, for the win! This has NCLB written all over it. I’m not saying you personally teach to the test. I’m just pointing it out to show one of the many problems with standardized tests…

  • mel4

    I think everyone should be able to write in cursive…. they can’t even sign their name which last time I checked is still a requirement on most legal documents. It totally makes no sense to me. I do understand keyboarding is essential in our changing world but lets not lose our basic ability to write!

  • Dr. B

    Tell me how our country will be when the people who are governing cannot read the Declaration of Independence?
    Dr. B

    • Dr. Linguistics

      I suppose we should go back to speaking in the same manner as they did in early modern English, also. We should probably stop the progression of the English language as well; otherwise people may not be able to understand our writings in the future. All this considering, there will be no record of how to translate cursive, late modern English, etc. in the future.

      • robogirl

        that’s not what they were saying. I don’t believe that.

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  • DCS

    Cursive may be “culturally important”, but there’s no point in teaching it. It’s too hard to read, and for me it takes longer to try to remember the letters than just printing it. I honestly don’t care that my friend’s note isn’t in cursive.

    • Thom

      The only time you really need it is for the famous GRE paragraph of doom.
      (when you take the GRE, you have to copy a paragraph – in cursive – about not cheating. A lot of candidates don’t know or expect this and it can shake them up a bit)

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  • tp

    Cursive only makes sense when one is handwriting long documents with a proper instrument. So it’s not really an argument about cursive–what’s really being argued is whether students should still be taught to write. Composing a document in one’s head and putting it on paper correctly–on the first try–is a useful communication skill. Children that are allowed endless drafts and rewrites on a computer will never learn to write coherently, much less meet a deadline.

    Cursive is a different topic. What killed cursive is the ballpoint pen. The worst writing instrument ever thrust upon consumers. It should have been allowed to die the first time it failed in the marketplace. It has ruined nearly everyone’s handwriting and is the culprit behind illegible documents. The photo in the article shows a child holding a pencil ballpoint-style. That’s a great way to have terrible penmanship, hand cramps, carpal tunnel syndrome and ink smeared all over the page.

    The attitude displayed in the article disgusts me, but is typical of American anti-intellectualism. The child who has difficulty learning cursive yet conquers the challenge benefits better than the one who does not. If this is the attitude parents have been taking with their children it’s no surprise this country is filled with uncompetitive cubical furniture whose unskilled troglodyte meat paws pick up a phone all day.

  • Rod-Rod

    Writing & reading in cursive isn’t for everyone it can be difficult and tricky to master it should be a choice if you want to learn it or not just like stick shift vs automatic.

    • tp

      Cursive is easier than printing, and less fatiguing. It also requires less coordination than a stick-shift transmission. The reason why it’s “tricky to master” is that it’s taught with the wrong instrument by people who aren’t even proficient at it–much less a master of it.

      Everyone from greasers to valedictorians learned how to do it right up through the 60s. Are we producing only stupid children now? Of course not! We’ve forgotten the basics…

      * Use a soft pencil or a fountain pen to practice
      * Hold the pencil 45 degrees from the writing line
      * Tilt the pencil at an angle between 40 and 50 degrees
      * Pull the instrument across the paper–do not press it into the paper; push it as little as possible
      * Use at least three fingers in unison to form shapes
      * Practice loops, curves and verticals until muscle memory is formed
      * Maintain consistent slow speed–do not scrawl and scratch

      * Write a little every day

  • robogirl

    Why have they decided cursive isn’t important? Just because we have computers? People don’t even know how to write in proper gramar anymore. They write should OF, could OF, would OF, instead of could, should, would, HAVE… they write and speak as though they’ve never been to school. Not everyone, but alot of people. I know not everyone is good with gramar and writing, but when I read forums and watch videos people don’t know how to write/ speak properly. As I said I’m not perfect with gramar. I also have a difficult time with punctuation, but I feel like kids in school and other people just don’t know how to write/speak proper english these days.

  • Sophia

    Cursive isn’t useful anymore. Teachers should be more concerned with teaching kids how to type.

  • Thom

    How many of you folks complaining have read historical documents in their original cursive yourselves? If you want to read the Declaration of Independence, do you download a giant jpeg of the original document, or just grab a text file?
    There will always be people who can puzzle out how to read historical documents. It’s really a non-issue.
    Personally I’ve barely used cursive since it stopped being required at the end of grade school, and in grade school I only used it when required for an assignment, using normal writing for everything else.