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Sunday, April 03, 2016

To cursive or not to cursive

One of the joys of teaching was to teach first graders to print. Each child had to learn to hold that pencil just so and form the letters in the correct way. I'd watch the class diligently trying to keep those marks touching the lines. It was an effort to do it exactly right and there was such a pride of accomplishment when a whole paper of f's was done and a sticker was placed at the top of the page.

Then the students couldn't wait until third grade when they could learn cursive. It was a milestone in their life to be able to connect those letters together and write like adults. When I taught third grade a great deal of time was spent practicing on lined paper to make the letters smoothly move and form words. Such pride...being like an adult.

Now I learn that cursive is no longer required in schools. What? I will mourn the death of penmanship. Common Core believes that cursive is a waste of precious teaching time and no longer relevant in today's society. Who writes anyway? The traditional skill has been replaced with technology. Or so they say. But I will miss the old fashioned penned letter or short note. Call me old fashioned.
Cursive needs to be a part of education. Don't take my word for it. Here is some research on the subject.

Cursive Helps People Integrate Knowledge

According to David Perkins, in his new book “Future Wise,” we are not teaching what really matters in schools. So much of educational focus now is on achieving a significant body of knowledge and expertise, and gaining enough mastery of a subject to answer multiple-choice tests. Eventually, that knowledge fades.

What matters? Skills. How to read. How to write. How to research. How to think. How to learn.

As Dr. William Klemm argues in Psychology Today, “Cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual, and tactile information, and fine motor dexterity. School systems, driven by ill-informed ideologues and federal mandate, are becoming obsessed with testing knowledge at the expense of training kids to develop better capacity for acquiring knowledge.”

Writing Long-form Teaches Us How to Write
There is a direct relationship between quality of handwriting and the quality of written text. The significant cognitive demands of writing combined with the added cognitive load of physically writing means it is important for a student to be able to handwrite effortlessly. As the author indicates, lacking fluency in handwriting causes difficulty in composition, as thoughts cannot get on the page fast enough. In addition, the student cannot focus on the sequencing and higher-order thoughts essential to composition. The relationship between handwriting and composition quality is even seen on MRI, with the brains of those with good handwriting activated in more areas associated with cognition, language, and executive function than the brains of those with poor handwriting.
The researchers emphasize handwriting is not just a motor art and requires a knowledge of orthography, or the methodology of writing a language.
As Dr. Carol Christensen points out, there is a strong relationship between creative and well-structured written text and the orthographic-motor ability. She calls it “language by hand.” And cursive, in general, is faster than print if you are fluent in both.
 Kids can’t read the Declaration of Independence!
At least not the original, pen and ink version. They will miss the thrill of reading the Emancipation Proclamation or the Bill of Rights in their founding forms—and what a travesty it is to raise Americans who would look at those documents as if they were written in hieroglyphics. “So that students are able to read our most valued historical documents in their original form,” reads a New Jersey proposal, “this bill requires that cursive be included in the public school curriculum.”
So your grandchildren will never know or recognize a personality by handwritten letters. The individuality of the letter forms will be absent. All they will see is typed letters. They won't see little spelling mistakes or crossing out or erasing something when you change your mind. They won't have the joy of seeing an envelope addressed to them and know by the handwriting that it is from a loved one. What will they cherish? The cold typed letters on a screen? How sad.


  1. The problem with the cursive-related statements of Dr. William Klemm (who's a veterinary surgeon at Texas A&M University) is that some of his readers have caught him out, more than once, in creating/using misquotations and other misrepresentations of research studies and other sources to make them support cursive. If one reads the originals of the research and other documents he mentions (rather than contenting oneself, as he often does and expects his readers to, with reading and citing the second-/third-/fourth-hand media accounts that he often prefers to use instead of the originally published research), one quickly finds that material he cites as showing a superiority for cursive over all the other forms of our handwriting (such as print-writing and so on) simply doesn't. Some of the studies that he presents as "proof of cursive" are not, if you look up the originals, even about handwriting at all, in any form — others are studies of print-writing versus keyboarding (in one case, in kindergarteners just learning the printed ABC) in which cursive played no role until Dr. Klemm saw fit to imagine otherwise and to lead his readers to do the same. (I use the word "imagine" advisedly: with regard to the kindergarten study and several others, Dr. Klemm — when questioned by those readers who had observed the severe discrepancies between the original research paper and Klemm's summary thereof — eventually admitted that he had not bothered, and did not wish to bother, to read the original publication because he had learned about the research through a popular-press article that had quoted another popular-press article that had, in turn, quoted a third article that had quoted (with alterations!) the original: the alterations, now evident, were (Klemm reported) pleasing to him, so he really saw no need to probe further or to change them back just because they were not in the actual research findings to which he (and his long chain of popular-press sources) had attributed them. (A further argument of Klemm's, on occasion, has been that creating/using alterations of research in order to make it support cursive is necessary, perhaps even virtuous and maybe even morally required, because — says Klemm — in no other way can cursive be effectively defended if the research isn't reaching the conclusions that he really is sure it should reach.)

  2. Handwriting matters — does cursive? Research shows that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are available on request.)

    Further research shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive. They join only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving others unjoined, using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree. Teaching material for such practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where this is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive that too many North American educators venerate. (Again, sources are available on request.)

    Reading cursive — which still matters — is much easier and quicker to master than writing cursive. Reading cursive can be mastered in just 30 to 60 minutes, even by kids who print.
    There's even a free iPad app teaching how: called “Read Cursive." Given the importance of reading cursive, why not teach it explicitly and quickly, for free, instead of leaving this vital skill to depend upon learning to write in cursive?

    Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by cursive textbook publisher Zaner-Bloser.. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. Most — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.

    When even most handwriting teachers do not follow cursive, why glorify it?

    Cursive's cheerleaders allege that cursive has benefits justifying absolutely anything said or done to promote it. Cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly allege research support — repeatedly citing studies that were misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant or by some other, earlier misrepresenter whom the claimant innocently trusts.

    What about cursive and signatures? 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 (specialists in the identification of signatures, verification of documents, etc.) find that the least forgeable signatures are plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if following cursive's rules at all, are fairly complicated: easing forgery.

    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual. That is how any first-grade teacher immediately discerns (from print-writing on unsigned work) which child produced it.

    Mandating cursive to save handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to save clothing.

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works

    1. I see you have research for your position too. But I will still contend that handwriting is better than typing for personal correspondence (be it old fashioned) and a way of showing personality. I will miss it if it completely disappears.

    2. I, too, would oppose and mourn the complete disappearance of handwriting — which is a very different thing from the complete disappearance of cursive.


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