The Great Cursive Writing Debate: Lost Art or Vital Skill?

The Great Cursive Writing Debate: Lost Art or Vital Skill?

The Oxford comma debate has been settled, as least in one court of law.

But another debate rages on in the halls of academia and the forums of word nerds: the great cursive debate.

Common Core standards removed cursive instruction as a requirement, which means that in 41 states, teachers aren’t obligated to teach it…so many of them don’t.

But states like Tennessee, Louisiana and California have fought back, making cursive a statewide standard.

To some, this gradual phasing out is inevitable, if not overdue. Others lament the loss of what they see as an art form and a necessary part of childhood education.

So are the connections, curlicues and flourishes most of us grew up with still relevant, or not?

Here’s a look at both sides of the debate.

Pros of cursive instruction

1. It’s good for your brain

According to science, the visceral experience of cursive writing can help students in more ways than being able to pen a pretty thank you note.

Since it engages both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, it can actually aid in reading comprehension, idea generation, spelling, brain development and memory.

2. It helps with dyslexia

Studies also suggest learning cursive can help students who suffer from forms of dyslexia, a disorder in which people have difficulty reading and writing words.

Typing, printing and cursive all stimulate different parts of the brain, and something about the circuits cursive activates, as well as the fine motor skills it hones, may help those who have difficulty forming written letters in the right order.

3. It bridges generations

Children who never learn cursive could have trouble doing things like deciphering a birthday note from Grandma or recognizing the words John Hancock signed his name under on the Declaration of Independence.

Just like knowing Latin can help you understand new languages, knowing cursive can help you unlock a wealth of historical knowledge and connect with past generations.

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

4. It’s a form of creativity

From art classes to music programs, the chances for students to exercise creativity in school have been on the decline for decades. If cursive writing is phased out altogether, supporters argue, it will be one more form of artistic self-expression missing from today’s curriculums.

I believe that cursive handwriting is the creative canary in the coal mine — and it’s slowly, almost imperceptibly dying,” says cursive advocate Carew Papritz in an interview with The Good Men Project. “In our 24/7, technology-drenched, social-media drowning world, we are too busy to notice and too busy to care that we are losing the ability to learn how to self-express — by developing and harnessing the creative side of our nature.”

Cons of cursive instruction

1. It’s gone the way of the typewriter

In our digital age of laptops and texting, some argue cursive has become obsolete.

How many times have you penned a letter, written a check or drafted a story out longhand lately? (If the latter, you’re in good company — it’s the preferred method of wordsmiths like George R. R. Martin and Joyce Carol Oates ). Legal signatures don’t need to be in cursive; in fact, electronic signatures are often acceptable.

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,” writes Morgan Polikoff, assistant education professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, in a New York Times opinion piece titled, “Let Cursive Writing Die.”

2. It wastes valuable learning time

Teachers are already hard-pressed to cram everything they’re supposed to into the school day, especially in an educational atmosphere heavily geared towards meet testing requirements.

With big expectations to live up and not much time to do it in, teachers are forced to be selective — and sometimes, cursive writing just doesn’t make the cut.

“One of the things we heard from teachers around the country…was that sometimes cursive writing takes an enormous amount of instructional time,” Sue Pimentel, one of the people in charge of setting Common Core’s English/language standards, told PBS NewsHour. “You could be spending time on other things rather than students practicing cursive writing. It’s really a matter of emphasis.”

3. You can get the benefits of handwriting without writing in cursive

You don’t have to know how to write cursive in order to be able to read it.

There are no studies that show, definitely, that writing in cursive is more efficient than printing. Opponents argue that holding onto cursive as the last bastion of the art of handwriting misses the mark.

As handwriting author Kate Gladstone puts it in an opinion piece on The New York Times, Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.”

4. Most people abandon it anyway

Even those who learn cursive as children usually end up scrapping the practice as they get older.

A survey conducted by Zane-Bloser, a cursive textbook publisher, found that even handwriting teachers rarely used cursive regularly. The majority of them used an amalgam of print and cursive writing, something I myself do after a lifetime of tinkering with my personal style and learning what felt most efficient for me.

That said, would I go back in time and remove cursive from my lessons if I could, in order to focus on whatever might better serve me in 2017? I was the sort of kid who asked for a calligraphy set for Christmas, so I recuse myself from passing judgment.

Where do you fall in the great cursive debate? Yay or nay?

cursive writing debate

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79 comments

  • Tracey says:

    Keep cursive writing! Writing is both a communication device and an art form. It is a personal stylized form that should continue to be practiced. We live in a rural area where intranet connections are often random and sketchy. I am reminded on those “dark days” that if the power went out, we as a human race would be barely capable of communicating with each other. We have created another “Tower of Babel” with our communication age. If the proverbial tower falls, so do our devices. I still like to send – yes and receive – a personal hand written note.

  • Arley Harriman says:

    As a professional writer for many years, I have instant creative thoughts in the strangest places. So, I always carry a pen and small notebook with me. Cursive writing is much faster than printing the letters which helps me jot down ideas quickly. Also when I do interviews, I developed my own cursive speed writing system. I also am an excellent key boarder (old days, typist!). At the end of the day, I transfer my notes to my computer and elaborate on them. Cursive should be taught in schools as they do a second language. It is a skill that can help in taking notes and reading great grandparent’s letters!

  • Carol A. Stephen says:

    I think to say it is time it went the way of the abacus or slide rule is not applicable. Handwriting is a skill, it can be a form of craft. Might as well say painting or sculpting is obsolete, because we have computer based artwork and 3 D printing.

    Getting older and developing arthritis has rendered my own writing rather illegible, so yes, I use a keyboard. But as a poet, there is something to be said in the extra time and attention it takes to write things out. Printing just, to me, looks very grade-school and untidy. Writing it out longhand makes me stop and think about what I am writing. Using a keyboard I don’t need to focus so much. Not always a benefit, to be on auto-pilot. Of course, I also learned to type the old way. Touch typing, not hunt and peck. And yes, maybe an old-fashioned viewpoint. On the other hand, when teenagers today need a calculator to make change for a dollar, and can’t do it when the cash register is down, it concerns me about the lost skills our schools no longer teach. How many today feel cut adrift and lost when they can’t access their cell phones, or the internet is down? It’s rather sad, I think.

  • LJ Boothe says:

    From my experiences as a school librarian, keyboard technician, writer, grandparent, and substitute teacher, I suggest that the inability to communicate via cursive writing contributes to overall illiteracy. In a recent training class, comprised of adults between the ages of 18 and 78, a PowerPoint slide contained some examples of documents written in cursive. The topic was about how to read research records, source documents, and so forth. To prove a point, the teacher asked who could not read the cursive. Many of the younger adults sheepishly raised their hands.

    My philosophy is that it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

    I’m grateful that my grandchildren are learning cursive from their parents and from their schools. Even our six-year-old granddaughter is proud to show me that she can read it and write it.

    But what about those who can’t? It seems to me that the lack of cursive education in the schools will create, throughout the world, more division than unity.

    Think of all the arguments in favor of teaching sports, computers, music, art, etc. in our schools. Where should “literacy” rank?

  • Geri Caswell says:

    Yes, of course, it will be less than no time when we will be having Robots, who will write for us. Is that appealing to you? It wasn’t easy at all, for this pretty as a picture, blonde little girl to learn it, but once learned, it was great,.As it was also great for you, and you, and you.
    Having a sample of our own creative , and beautiful handwriting to show to show off our talents, and let us not forget that wonderful feeling of pride we had to show off -Look! See my cursive , I did it all by myself.
    Did we suddenly appear here on this planet,and mingle with the rest? Hardly! Everything we did, and will do is history, our history and that of our families. Why the rush to do away with those accomplishments?
    Cursive is helpful in our development, and now, as adults, we create some artistic prose in that manner. It teaches, records prettily , helps us think, our brains to work. So many things. Let’s not leave them behind to wither ad die as we are doing with so much of history. It makes for witness of what was, and is now, and will be. Yes,hooray for computers, but a much louder rahrahrah!
    for what we accomplished as we grew, and helped , in a not so small way, to make us the creative beings we are today. So I say, no, do not do away with cursive. Be proud of what you accomplish, as a child, without machinery, but simply the use of your learned abilities.

    I could go on , but enough said, and you do get it,
    Right?

  • Noa says:

    YAY! Cursive for life haha!

  • Маја says:

    You do KNOW what that last image writes?! (’cause I do). And it’s funny. 🙂
    It’s a fine Cyrillic cursive, only proving that the beauty of form might not imply the substance of saying – because this one in particular (pretty, round, handwriting) states: “All you who think that something important is written here, are screwed”) – ever so true 🙂

  • Keith Ammann says:

    I had godawful hideous cursive writing in school, and by the time I got to college, I’d switched to all-caps printing, then switched to mixed-case printing by the time I graduated. But then I went out into the world as a journalist and learned the hard way that you can’t print fast enough to take good notes during an interview. I HAD to relearn cursive. I ended up going to the library and checking out Teach Yourself Better Handwriting by Rosemary Sassoon, and by gum if that didn’t turn my existing printing into better cursive than I’d EVER written in school. I get compliments on it now. AND I can handwrite both legibly and fast.

    All that time, I had the luxury of being able to type 105 wpm. And now, of course, there’s texting. But let’s be completely honest here: If you type or text a love note, you’re an asshole.

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