Should We Still Teach Cursive Writing?
The much publicized Common Core standards don’t require the teaching of cursive handwriting in elementary schools and, like so much else about the Common Core, this makes a lot of people unhappy. I’ll keep my opinion on the Common Core to myself (at least for now), but this seems like a good place to talk about the relative importance of teaching script.
I think I understand the arguments on both sides. Pro-cursive folks talk about aesthetics and connection with the past. They also point to the benefits of the fine motor skills developed by cursive writing instruction. Apparently, brain researchers have found that cursive writing stimulates more of the brain than keyboarding or even printing.
The Pro-Cursive Position
But I can’t help feeling that the main reason folks want cursive to remain in the curriculum is little more than a deep-rooted resistance to change. We all learned to write in cursive. For some of us (e.g., yours truly), it was a grueling experience. Why should today’s kids get out of it? It just seems like more lowering of expectations — of requiring less of students when we should be asking more.
The following comment on a blog is fairly typical:
… what does cursive teach us? One neatness, pride of ownership, discipline and motor skills … works well when the power is off 24 hours and you don’t have a key board, computer, or phone … IE. you can write your love a love letter … or poem.
… If you can not write cursive, you can not read cursive … the Bills of rights [sic]…, Constitution, and Declaration all become greek [sic]… or any of the original, unedited notes of our history and founding … dumbing down of youth…stupid is as stupid does.
I don’t relate to the writer’s passion, and I’m unconvinced by his argument. Neatness? I worked hard at cursive, but my printing has always been far more legible. Why can’t neatness be learned by printing. And we’re not talking about neatness generally. Just neat handwriting. It sounds a little like, “We need to teach handwriting so we can teach neat handwriting!”
Motor skills? That’s always an odd one to me. People defend video games with the same argument. I never bought that one. Video game playing teaches motor skills that apply to…playing video games. I don’t see how learning cursive is any different. Doesn’t learning to print teach fine motor skills just as well?
Discipline can obviously be taught through any subject. If we want to teach discipline for discpline’s sake, there are a thousand completely useless options. We can make them separate lentils into piles (fine motor skills too!).
The whole “works with the power off” argument makes no sense. No one is suggesting we eliminate pencil and paper, just cursive writing. Printing equally requires no electricity. And I can print my love a letter or poem perfectly well.
The idea that we’ll lose the ability to comprehend the founding documents — even that individual students will find them illegible — is a bit of a stretch, no? Those documents have been transcribed into print thousands of times. I’ve got a pocket Constitution — in print — that I refer to often. Anyway, it’s far easier to read cursive than write in it. And if a student found it important to read the original, it would take just a little effort to learn how to decipher it.
I don’t see this as an attempt to further “dumb down” education. In fact, I think it’s a simple adjustment to the times. Thirty years ago, few of us had the need to learn keyboarding skills. Today they are vital. Cursive handwriting is not. Let’s make efforts to use teacher and student time wisely. Other than signatures, few people under 50 ever write in cursive once they leave elementary school. It simply seems like other things are more important and more valuable.
I’m Not Objective
I’m happy to reveal my biases on the matter, of course. First, I run an education business that requires students to compose entirely on keyboards. I don’t think it’s wise to eliminate handwriting in general — that would put us at the mercy of electronic technology — but I don’t see why we must teach students both print and cursive when keyboarding is easily the most practically useful motor skill in today’s world.
Second, I’ve always hated writing in cursive. I quit as soon as teachers stopped requiring it of me. My handwriting has always been a mess, even when I concentrate and take my time.
I don’t pretend to be objective, but I’m open to being persuaded (by arguments better than the commenter’s above).
The Origins of Cursive
The historical argument works against cursive instruction. Cursive originated as a means of reducing the number of times a writer had to lift his quill pen off the page. This reduced spatters and wear and tear on the fragile quills. In a world of sturdy, plastic ball-points, the only reasonable arguments for cursive are speed and artistry. Cursive writing is somewhat faster than printing. And for those with a graceful hand, script is more visually appealing.
Good points, but not enough to convince me that this increasingly outdated skill is worth the necessary time investment.
For the record, my wife and I homeschooled our kids, and we taught them cursive. But, like their dad, my daughters, in those rare instances when they put pen to paper rather than thumbs to phone keypads, write entirely in print.
Please feel free to disagree with me in the reply section below. Oh, you can back me up too, if you like, but that’s not nearly as fun!