In Cursive’s Defense: Why We Still Teach Handwriting

in-cursives-defense

At Parent-Teacher Conference time, we teachers are used to a few standbys: fathers always want to know about spelling and multiplication tables, for example, and we are often queried on the age-old question of “Yes, but how is he/she doing in math?” This year, a fellow teacher and I noticed a number of parents asking about Cursive–and the fact that we still teach it. No one was criticizing, or even questioning, really, but just the fact that it was noteworthy came to our attention. You may already know it was dropped from the Common Core in 2010, leaving Alaska, Texas, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Minnesota, and Puerto Rico the only states (and territory) to decide cursive’s curricular fate for themselves. (Just a short note: Indiana may be the only state fighting to keep cursive on the curriculum). Many of those states have dropped Cursive from their curriculum independent from the Common Core–and some states following Common Core have allowed it back in, going so far as to include it as part of the art standards just to be able to teach it.

The question is why? What’s so important about Cursive? For supporters, it’s impossible to leave out the element of tradition. Our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were, after all, written in beautifully decorative script. Closer to home, it’s the script that most of our parents and grandparents use when they write. If we lose Cursive, we lose a piece of our history…or so the argument goes.

One thing that occurred to me every time a parent mentioned that cursive was dropped in public schools at third grade was that reading and writing in Cursive has become another specialty skill that schools adopting the Common Core can’t offer. Cursive has become another easy hallmark for private education. And here’s another thing to consider: while Canada is following the U.S. in regards to Cursive, both England and Australia continue to teach penmanship in the upper grades.

I’m the first to admit that my belief that Cursive should be included in the curriculum is entangled with feelings. I do feel that it’s an important connection to the past, but more than that, it’s an irreplaceable extension of our personality. I so vividly remember perfecting my “signature” when I was in elementary school and it tickles me to see my students doing the same thing in my classroom today. Furthermore, I can look at each of my students’ work and tell whose is whose just by the writing even if their name isn’t on it. (But don’t tell them because they still have to put their names on their work.) There’s so much you can communicate with a pen or pencil and your own hand that you can never, in a million years, communicate by typing on a computer or a mobile phone. At least until they finally invent the sarcasm emoji I’ve been saying we need for, like, ever. And a text from mom will never be the same as a handwritten note in your lunchbox.

The truth is, people want more concrete reasons for teaching Cursive. Here are some more reasons we continue to teach handwriting:

  1. It helps with visual tracking and hand-eye coordination. Think fine motor (brain surgery), not gross motor (playing football).
  2. Studies indicate a link between retention and handwriting information versus typing. The physical act of putting pencil to paper helps students to remember the information they are taking in.
  3. Furthermore, students who write notes by hand are better at weeding out important (and relevant) information for note-taking. Students who type their notes, copy lectures verbatim and become overwhelmed by trying to remember unnecessary information.
  4. Although it is not necessarily faster for a student still in the process of mastering Cursive, it is faster once they have achieved it (which is why it needs to stay part of the curriculum).
  5. Learning Cursive builds confidence and allows the students to see the rewards of their effort:

    The feedback is immediate. The child sees in one eye fixation both the ideal and the child’s version. The child then tries again, and again sees immediately the comparison between the ideal and their current state of skill. With each attempt, the child learns without being told or scolded, how much improvement is occurring. Progress is all under the child’s control. The child knows it, and also knows that better results can occur with each thoughtful attempt. The child learns to pay more attention (which in itself is a crucial skill in this age of multi-tasking).

    Klemm, “Biological and Psychology Benefits of Learning Cursive

  6. Handwriting is often used for students with dyslexia and dysgraphia, since there is less need to pick up the pen from the page.

I can’t close without bringing up NPR’s article Does the Fight for A Cursive Comeback Miss the Point?  I encourage you all to read it because, in my opinion, it comes back to the heart of the issue of modern education, which is this: why did schools feel impelled to cut Cursive from the curriculum in the first place? How much of a role does the standardized testing play in decreasing the importance of quality penmanship? I think you can probably guess my opinion. I’ll leave you to form your own.

Case for Cursive from Montessorium

Case for Cursive from Montessorium

Sources:

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