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Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Case For Cursive Writing Instruction

As typewriters and computers offer writers a means for producing modern communication, cursive as a way of formalizing correspondence has fallen out of favor. Most tasks, which would have once required a cursive hand, are now done using word processing and a printer. The educational trend around the United States is to emphasize keyboarding -- a skill that is included in the Common Core education standards adopted by most states.

Cursive writing is a long-held cultural tradition in America with deep roots in the history of the country. 

Yet, common etiquette advocates longhand in personal correspondence -- thank-you notes, informal letters, memos. So, many citizens still seek cursive instruction to provide a skill that offers a sense that a real person is involved in correspondence.

The teaching of cursive has been de-emphasized in some public schools. Also being able to write in a fair-hand is still looked upon as a sign of literacy in many countries. In some countries, the quality of one's cursive is used to determine the appointment of public office. And, in Tennessee, where concerned lawmakers fear that some children do not have a signature and struggle to read their teachers' handwriting, the legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill making cursive a mandatory subject in grades two through four.

Schools are expected to start bringing back the declining art of cursive in 2015-2016 under the new rules, signed into law this year by Governor Bill Haslam. Keyboarding and print writing will still have their place, but legible penmanship will be required by third grade.

(Tim Ghianni. "Sharpen the Pencils: Tennessee Revives Cursive Teaching." 
Reuters. August 23, 2014)

Those who argue for cursive insist that instruction is important for many reasons:

* It teaches fine motor skills, 

* It is faster and more efficient than printed handwriting,  

* It enhances the creative process and has other cognitive benefits, and

* It insures that many historical documents won't be illegible to those who can’t read cursive.

To Teach Cursive Reading, Writing, or Both?

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, 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.” She believes schools should not teach students to write elaborate letters when there is so much more substantive curriculum. Gladstone says it’s not a worthwhile return on the investment of time and energy.
Cursive isn’t required for legal documents, either. In state and federal law, Gladstone says, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind.

 (T. Walker. "Does Cursive Need to Be Taught in the Digital Age?" NEA Today. July 22, 2013)

My View

Let's consider a few more points in favor of teaching children to read and write cursive ...

* Not everyone has access to a computer and a printer.

* Note-taking remains part of the academic experience, and notes are often shared/compared.

* Learning cursive promotes brain development, says William Klemm, Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University.  His article in Psychology Today contends when students write in cursive, "there is spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. Students have to pay attention and think about what and how they are doing it . . . brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding."

* Instructive in cursive involves "learning to learning's sake." Knowing how to write and read in cursive will give students a greater overall advantage in both their ongoing learning and in their future careers. They will gain confidence with these skills, and they will be able to decipher documents written in cursive.

* Writing cursively can be an art form. Balance that with a history of eastern traditions of calligraphy, and it can create some solid curriculum in cross-cultural studies.

* Internet plagiarism is a concern for schools, so many teachers have increased in-class writing assignments, and these essays must be legible.
  Internet plagiarism is a concern for schools, so many teachers have increased in-class writing assignments, and these essays must be legible. - See more at:
Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who, according to the article, “cites multiple studies showing that sloppy handwriting routinely leads to lower grades, even in papers with the same wording as those written in a neater hand”:
Graham argues that fears over the decline of handwriting in general and cursive in particular are distractions from the goal of improving students’ overall writing skills. The important thing is to have students proficient enough to focus on their ideas and the composition of their writing rather than how they form the letters.
- See more at:

* Copying texts, like a poem, helps kids to “internalize” language.  Often students will confess to not understanding a poem when they read it, but that they have a deeper understanding once they have copied it. A 2010 study by the Carnegie Corporation of New York reported that students’ reading skills can improve if they write what they are reading in addition to them learning writing skills and increasing how much they write.

So ...

I believe reading and writing cursive writing must be included in mandatory language arts instruction. The personal touch of cursive writing is evident in something as simple as an autograph. An autograph represents an original handwritten signature, a portrait made with one's own hand. This signature inks a style symbolic of the writer. In doing so, it becomes a simple piece of personal art representative of a single, unique human being.

How sad to think learning to employ written language may be strictly limited to mechanical means. The effect on the meaning of some types of correspondence would dictate a loss of meaning, a loss of inflection, and a loss of originality. Cursive writing, itself, requires an understanding of a certain amount of interpretation and expression not found in printing.

To believe that extensive use of computer keyboards and smartphones spells the need to abandon
cursive instruction denies the need to insure writing remains a "fingerprint" of its author.

I disagree with Jen Doll of The Village Voice when she says, "In our modern day keyboard- and smartphone-focused lifestyles, we simply don't need it (cursive) any more, except for signing our names on credit card bills. So let cursive rest in peace, and embrace our evolution as a species. We don't write on cave walls anymore, either, at least, the majority of us don't."

Jen and I disagree on "our evolution as a species" when she calls for the death of this form of communication we all know as "cursive." Thanks for the revival, Tennessee.

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