Making the Case for Cursive

The summer of 2013 will go down in American history as the summer that polarized the country over the fate of Trayvon Martin and the man accused of killing him. Another rather unforeseen partisan debate also arose from the Zimmerman trial, however, that is particularly relevant for The New Century School elementary students: reading and writing in cursive. Witness Rachel Jeantel, age 19 years, told the courtroom that she was unable to read a letter written in cursive, a key piece of evidence (see story here). Suddenly, whether cursive should be taught in schools or not has become the education polemic du jour.

In the New York Times, assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education Morgan Polikoff wrote that there’s no good reason to continue teaching cursive. It has been left out of the Common Core Standards and fewer and fewer people use it anymore (in favor of printing or keyboarding). “Additionally, there is little compelling research to suggest the teaching of cursive positively affects other student skills enough to merit its teaching,” he writes.

TNCS student practices writing in cursive.

TNCS student practices writing in cursive.

Advocates of cursive vehemently disagree. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Suzanne Asherson from Handwriting Without Tears, a handwriting program for teachers, says, “Cursive is faster and more efficient than print. When [children know] the mechanics of forming letters in cursive, they can better focus on their content.” A somewhat controversial study of SAT scores found that test takers who wrote in cursive rather than print on the essay portion scored significantly higher. Analysts suggest that this is because the efficiency, better flow, and connectedness of cursive writing allowed the students to focus on making coherent arguments. The kinesthetic process paralleled the cognitive one.

Another consideration is that regardless of whether cursive continues to be taught, documents written in cursive will nevertheless exist . . . should we be able to read them? Finally, many argue that cursive—unlike print or especially keyboarding—boosts brain activity in positive ways. Read a blog post by Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of  Educational Strategies here.

Although Maryland is an adopter of the Common Core State Standards, which doesn’t require that cursive be taught, many schools in the state teach it nevertheless. At TNCS anyway, elementary students are taught to write in cursive. Both Montessori and Waldorf schools believe that cursive writing promotes the mindfulness required of genuine scholastic engagement. In fact, last year, TNCS took the issue head on with typical good humor when the elementary kids made “Cursive Haunted Houses”:

“There once was an old house on a hill. No one would go near it. Someone said it was Cursive! It started in the tall dry grass around the house. People noticed how wavy and spiky it was: VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV.

Then they notice how the paint on the house peeled in long and short curls: eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll.

And when the shutters flapped on a stormy night, people saw shapes in the windows—shapes that looked like letters! It was the old house speaking to the town’s people in a spooky and beautiful way.”

It might be considered just plain “loopy” by some, but cursive isn’t gone yet!

What do you think? Should cursive be taught in or omitted from elementary curricula? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section!

7 thoughts on “Making the Case for Cursive

  1. Yes! Can you imagine writing an entire essay in print?

  2. ha ha Lily, i actually can imagine writing an entire essay in print because I never write in cursive! This is because no matter how much I practiced and perfected my cursive, I just was never as proud of my penmanship in cursive as I was when I printed. Eventually, my handwriting has developed into a hybrid print-cursive, where I print but my letters are connected.

    All of this said, I definitely think that cursive should absolutely be taught in school!

    • Hi Kelly, you might like to check out the Handwriting without Tears website (http://www.hwtears.com/hwt). They advocate something similar to your hybrid writing, and they emphasize that it’s actually the connectedness, not the specific style, that matters :).

  3. We still teach cursive at my elementary school and I feel pretty strong in saying that it will continue because kids LOVE it and it really is good for them to know. Each year I hear the same conversation as well as their incredible enthusiasm about learning cursive from my 2nd graders. I think it gives them a sense of accomplishment as well as ownership. I find it so interesting how some of the old school ways of teaching get kicked to the curb for awhile but guess what, most of them come back. One thing in particular that comes to mind is how learning to type was taken completely out of the curriculum a few years ago now it is back in full swing! I remember taking my first typing class in 12 th grade, now the expectation is that kids as early as third grade should be taught the proper way to use the keyboard. As a matter of fact there are 2 new typing programs that I have to teach in the upcoming school year!! I guess my point is is that it’ s all kind of important and why not expose our kiddos to as much as we can? :)

    • I know that I can hardly write legibly at all anymore because I spend so much time communicating via keyboard. For some reason, this loss of skill makes me sad, but I can’t really put my finger on why. Anyway, I’m glad that my kids will learn cursive, something I don’t find at all anachronistic.

  4. I still prefer writing in cursive to this day a good (gulp) 30 years after first learning! It comes closest to matching the speed that my thoughts come together for thank you letter, notes, and such. Printing in all capital letters looks good, but it takes me forever. So grateful that my girls will be learning cursive!

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