Cursive: It’s About More Than Writing

August 22, 2011

For release Aug. 24 and thereafter (737 words)

“Cursive handwriting has been omitted from the Common Core State Standards, the new curriculum standard that more than 40 states adopted last summer.” ~ the Associated Press

Beginning this fall, Indiana’s State Department of Education will no longer require public schools to teach cursive writing. Instead, students will be expected to become proficient in keyboarding, a skill, some educators say, that is more useful in today’s world.

As an educator who has taught both communications and English classes, I am saddened by this news, for it marks the passing of an important method of communication. I prided myself on being one of those (annoying to some, I’m sure) instructors who insisted upon grammatically correct sentences, written in a legible hand.

Upon hearing this news, however, I have to ask: Will our students be able to sign their names? Read historic documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation in their original formats? Conduct accurate historical research in years to come?

No matter what is said, sometimes pen and paper are necessary (and readily available) tools of communication. Learning cursive is a form of discipline, much like learning the motions of ballet or yoga. It teaches the discipline of repetitive motion along with a feeling of accomplishment when the skill is mastered.

And from a neuropsychologist’s point of view, learning cursive writing is a much-different skill than that of keyboarding. According to an article in the Washington Post, “the neurological process that directs thought, through fingers, into written symbols is a highly sophisticated one.” The Chicago Tribune has written that “several studies have shown that good handwriting skills, taught at a young age, can help children express their thoughts more clearly.” From a cognitive development standpoint, research has shown that children who do not possess proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, briefer compositions.

As logic would dictate, students who print, rather than write in cursive, typically need more time to take notes or write essays for the SAT. According to the College Board, SAT essays written in cursive had slightly higher average scores than those that were printed. (Currently, both SAT tests and Advanced Placement exams require handwritten essays.)

Research has shown that handwriting makes a difference in the perception of a student’s knowledge and ideas. Whether fair or not, legible handwriting may improve a student’s test score, while messy handwriting can detract from it. “In one academic study, first-graders who could write only 10 to 12 letters per minute were given 45 minutes of handwriting instruction for nine weeks. Their writing speed doubled, their expressed thoughts became more complex and their sentence construction skills increased,” according to Wikipedia.

Dr. Jacqueline Mossburg, a teacher for 25 years and a school administrator for 12, holds a doctorate in elementary education with a focus on reading. Her special interest was working with children who struggled learning to read, write and spell. When told about Indiana schools eliminating cursive handwriting, she said, “I believe schools are eliminating time allocations for teaching cursive handwriting in our schools because the current standardized tests are not evaluating that skill. Legible, neat penmanship requires discipline and attention to detail. Would anyone argue that our students (especially today’s students) need to develop both? I’m particularly concerned because cursive writing links letters together to form words. Many disabled readers profit from realizing sounds blend together to form words when they begin to write this way. These same students often find writing words slowly in cursive writing helps them learn to spell words correctly.”

Anthony Judson, a long-time educator and former school superintendent, agreed, saying, “Deciding not to teach cursive writing based upon other communication tools at our disposal, is like deciding not to teach mathematics due to the availability of computers and calculators. In my opinion, cursive writing is still a valuable communication technique which should be made available to our students. Instead of eliminating it from our curricula I believe we should be evaluating all of the testing forced upon our schools by politicians who, in the majority of cases, have little understanding of child development, individual learning styles or ability and achievement comparisons.”

And David Mingle, an experienced instructor with whom I taught at a two-year college in Indiana, and who, not coincidentally, has beautiful penmanship, said, “Writing in cursive and in lettering (printing is performed by machines), develops who we are artistically and intellectually. It promotes individuality, thus promoting creativity.”  

As long as curricular decisions are made by politicians, Indiana’s schools will continue to decline. The elimination of cursive handwriting is just one more step in that unfortunate direction.

Joyce Preest is copy editor of The Indiana Policy Review. Contact her at editor@indianapolicy.org.

References

BBC Mobile. “Indiana latest US state to drop handwriting requirement.” July 12, 2011.

Berk, Honey. “Cursive handwriting getting erased as schools teach typing over script.” http://www.parentdish.com/2011/01/21/cursive-handwriting/. Last accessed Aug. 9, 2011.

Loughlin, Sue. “Archaic method? Cursive writing no longer has to be taught.” The Tribune-Star, July 3, 2011.

McManus, Kathy. “Should cursive be saved?” Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Project, Feb. 4, 2010.

Pressler, Margaret Webb. “The handwriting is on the wall.” The Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2006.

Swanson, Stevenson. “Why crossing your t’s matters — You may spend your day at a keyboard, but there’s still value in having good penmanship.” The Chicago Tribune, August 2005.

Wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursive_writing. Last accessed Aug. 15, 2011.

Windsorova, Dr. Dora. Telephone interview. Aug. 15, 2011.

Zorn, Eric. “Cursive, foiled again.” The Chicago Tribune, Oct. 12, 2006.



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