Should Cursive Be Taught In Schools?

Cursive Conundrum(56645)

When did you first learn to write?  Many children practice with their parents before they ever enter a classroom.  Others are not taught to print until they are in a school setting.  Assuming you’re older than 12, you took your early printing skills a step further and learned cursive in the second or third grade.  If you attended Catholic school you may have additionally learned the Palmer Pen method.  Showing proficiency in it earned you a little, embossed pin with the letter “P” on it.

Whether you call it handwriting, joint writing, or running writing, cursive is a style of writing in which each letter of a word is connected. The advantage of this style and one of the reasons it was developed is the rare necessity to lift the pen from the paper, except to begin a new word. 

advantage of this style(56636)

Claims have been made that cursive improves the speed and efficiency with which words can be written and when you want to write something quickly, cursive is the reliable vehicle to get you there.  In the days of quill pens, it also minimized ink smudges.

Modern communication rides on the rails of texts, tweets, and emails, and today, cursive writing is becoming as passé as the eight-track cassette.  Consequently, in 2011 Indiana and Hawaii opted for teaching keyboard proficiency and dropping cursive writing.

To be clear, Indiana and Hawaii have not elected to stop teaching children to write printed letters, they’re just removing cursive from the curriculum.  New keyboard classes will fill that slot.  You can almost hear the fierce clacking of keys echoing support for this idea.  The reasoning?  Computers have replaced our need to write much of anything by hand.  Since most of us are tethered to keyboards or keypads of some sort, how will this impact our future?


Imagine a love letter typed in Arial font?  You may have received one already.  Does it have the same impact as one that is written by your beloved’s hand, pen to paper?  Each holiday Christmas cards arrive in the mail addressed by home printers, much to the dismay of Miss Manners, who recommends handwritten envelopes and notes because they are much more personalized.  Will we miss that personalization when computers handle the bulk of our social communications?

How does the cursive issue affect our legal world?  An attorney will tell you that cursive signatures are no more legal then printed signatures.  So why do so many formal documents provide a line for your printed name and one for your signature?  Would it surprise you to know that signatures are sometimes accepted online by simply typing in your name?

The pseudo science of handwriting analysis is based on studying writing samples to form an individual’s personality profile.  It has been used in education, criminal psychology, recruitment, and human resources.  Since handwriting comes directly from a person’s brain, it is uniquely individual and identifiable. The use of graphology is also said to reveal diseases of the brain and nervous system.  Most of the criteria presently applied to these studies may still be valid without cursive, but specific assessments like “flow” and “connection” will be missing from the study when the samples used are printed words.

If teaching cursive comes to a halt in our schools, students on a field trip to the National Archives in Washington D.C. might quizzically look at the original Gettysburg Address as though it were written in Latin.  Will the historical significance be lost to them when it's delivered via myopic squiggles?  In the case of the Gettysburg Address, not necessarily.  Exploring it is now an interactive experience with audio features describing the artifact.  But an argument of significance could be valid with a great many other documents.

The Cursive Conundrum In Schools

To print or not to print, that is the question, the one being bandied about in many American schools.  Ask most 40ish people and they will tell you they learned cursive in school but rarely use it.  When they aren't using a computer, they lean toward printing or a mix of cursive with printing which results in a unique personal style they find satisfying.

So if that’s the case, does cursive serve a useful purpose in our world?  Unwilling to watch another tradition fade, proponents hold to the style with a tight emotional grip, partly because it is rooted in our culture.  The aesthetics of cursive and the discipline required to achieve it, are also looked upon as a way for children to develop fine motor skills. 

Maybe cursive writing will eventually be relegated to the arts and become an elective in schools.  Like paintings in the hands of the masters, there’s a beauty in perfectly executed pages or even single signatures using strokes and flourishes.

John Hancock(56633)


The Bottom Line

It appears the decision to eliminate or continue teaching cursive comes down to money.  With school funding being the serious issue it is today, efforts to find ways to cut curriculums may be one important reason cursive teaching has come under fire.

In 2009, one California school district could not come up with the funds needed to continue teaching cursive writing.  But a strong emotional bond to cursive may reinstate it in that district as the community rallies to bring donations to the district’s coffers in support.

Remember the book “Why Johnny Still Can’t Read”, Rudolph Flesch's second installement on the subject?  It was published in 1981.  Fast-forward to 2011 and the book still finds a wide audience because media reports keep telling us that educational standards are lacking and kids aren’t learning the basics.  You might question, with these weightier issues to deal with, who cares about cursive?  It's true, cursive won’t be the deciding factor in a teen getting a summer job at McDonalds.  But sadly, neither will math because Johnny can rely on a computer to tell him how much change to give you.

Let’s be honest.  An education without cursive is not going to ruin anyone’s life.  And because there are no severe consequences involved, it will be interesting to see the outcome of the cursive conundrum in years to come.  If you’re a calligrapher, a descendant of the late Austin Norman Palmer, or someone who feels strongly that cursive should remain in school curriculums, voice your opinion.  But don’t run to your computer.  A letter to your school district written in cursive would be a more persuasive argument.