The answer is simple. They shouldn’t. Yet it’s a trend that just added Alabama and Mississippi and which already includes fourteen states. Fourteen states think the government should mandate spending time to learn something that is largely useless in modern society. There is little need of cursive writing but for some reason legislators and, judging by the comment section, lots and lots of regular folks, approve of these laws.
Those who support such measures make any number of claims including the ideas that it helps students think through ideas, helps creativity, it helps train the mind, and helps grammar. The reality is different and I think important to understand. The people who support such laws were taught cursive writing in school. They don’t want students today taught things differently because they are threatened by and scared of this new world in which we live.
There is very little need for cursive writing anymore and soon there will be none. We use computers, tablets, phones, and other devices to type our messages, this is self-evident. There is no need for me to argue this point. Cursive has less relevance in the modern world with each passing day. It will not return as a useful means of communication. The purpose of teaching cursive writing was to allow people to write down their thoughts more quickly than block printing but with the legibility of that style. That’s why cursive writing was taught, because it was an incredibly useful skill for people to know. We did not teach it to encourage creativity, to train minds, to help thinking, or to help grammar. We can teach those things in other ways.
Cursive was taught because it was useful to know. That is the most important thing and the basic reason it was taught. It’s not important to know anymore so we shouldn’t be teaching it. We should spend time teaching other things.
I’m not opposed to teaching grammar. I’m not opposed to teaching students creativity. I’m not opposed to teaching students how to think through an idea. I’m not opposed to teaching students to use logical thought processes. I am, however; totally and irrevocably opposed to teaching cursive in school.
The people who argue for this seem to universally lament the fact that students today are unprepared for life and that somehow spending many hours teaching them a useless skill will help this problem. Let me be clear, the people who claim young people are stupid and unable to handle the modern world are wrong. Young people today face a very different world and very different challenges than I did and they are well-equipped to handle such a life. College students, high-school students, and young adults are often intelligent, smart, capable, and largely better educated than their parents.
This insistence on cursive writing is almost solely based on fear that kids today are learning things that adults don’t know or understand. People feel safe in forcing kids to learn the things we learned, it gives a comforting sense of continuity. It’s a bad idea.
This fear drives much in our lives. This fear holds us back. This fear will hold back millions of kids in Alabama, Mississippi and twelve other states.
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Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)
More recently, the research has als documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.
This is what I’d expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive poses even more difficulties than print-writing. (Contrary to myth, reversals in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my caseload, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”)
— According to comparative studies of handwriting speed and legibility in different forms of writing, the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive — although they are not absolute print-writers either. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all: joining only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.
Reading cursive still matters — but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too. Reading cursive, simply reading it, can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print. (There’s even an iPad app teaching kids and others to read cursive, whether or not they write it or ever will write it. The app — “Read Cursive” — is a free download. Those who are rightly concerned with the vanishing skill of cursive reading may wish to visit appstore.com/readcursive for more information.)
We don’t require our children to learn to make their own pencils (or build their own printing presses) before we teach them how to read and write. Why require them to write cursive before we teach them how to read it? Why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as a form of handwriting that is actually typical of effective handwriters?
Just as each and every child deserves to be able to read all kinds of everyday handwriting (including cursive), each and every one of our children — dyslexic or not — deserves to learn the most effective and powerful strategies for high-speed high-legibility handwriting performance.
Teaching material for practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive which is venerated by too many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown: http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/curriculum.html )
Even in the USA and Canada, educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
(If you would like to take part in another, ongoing poll of handwriting forms — not hosted by a publisher, and not restricted to teachers — visit http://www.poll.fm/4zac4 for the One-Question Handwriting Survey, created by this author. As with the Zaner-Bloser teacher survey, so far the results show very few purely cursive handwriters — and even fewer purely printed writers. Most handwriting in the real world — 75% of the response totals, so far — consists of print-like letters with occasional joins.)
When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why glorify it?
Believe it or not, some of the adults who themselves write in an occasionally joined but otherwise print-like handwriting tell me that they are teachers who still insist that their students must write in cursive, and/or who still teach their students that all adults habitually and normally write in cursive and always will. (Given the facts on our handwriting today, this is a little like teaching kids that our current president is Richard Nixon.)
What, I wonder, are the educational and psychological effects of teaching, or trying to teach, something that the students can probably see for themselves is no longer a fact?
Cursive’s cheerleaders (with whom I’ve had some stormy debates) sometimes allege that cursive has benefits which justify absolutely anything said or done to promote that form of handwriting. The cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly state (sometimes in sworn testimony before school boards and state legislatures) that cursive cures dyslexia or prevents it, that it makes you pleasant and graceful and intelligent, that it adds brain cells, that it instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or that it confers numerous other blessings which are no more prevalent among cursive users than among the rest of the human race. Some claim research support — citing studies that invariably prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.
So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident as soon as others examined the claimed support:
/1/ either the claim provides no source,
/2/ if a source is cited, and anyone checks it out, the source turns out to have been misquoted or incorrectly paraphrased by the person citing it
/3/ the claimant correctly quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.
Cursive devotees’ eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are commonly made — under oath — in testimony before school districts, state legislatures, and other bodies voting on educational measures. The proposals for cursive are, without exception so far, introduced by legislators or other spokespersons whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — although investigative reporting of the questionable testimony does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when the discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill? (Documentation on request: I am willing to be interviewed by anyone who is interested in bringing this serious issue inescapably before the public’s eyes and ears.)
By now, you’re probably wondering: “What about cursive and signatures? Will we still have legally valid signatures if we stop signing our names in cursive?” Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.
All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.
Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.
Handwriting research on speed and legibility:
/1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED056015
/2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf
/3/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf
Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf
Ongoing handwriting poll: http://poll.fm/4zac4
The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):
Background on our handwriting, past and present:
3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —
TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —
HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
(shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —
Yours for better letters,
DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
Thank you for the authoritative reply, Kate!
I’m glad someone as thorough as you seems to be in agreement with a rank amatuer in this field like myself.
Cursive should be TAUGHT AS AN ELECTIVE ONLY. it is no more essential then Latin, and in my subjective opinion, less interesting. it’s benefits are largely a myth, the most proven ones it has to no greater extent then print, the claim that it is faster is based on an active distortion of facts, there are studies that show that cursive is faster only if legibility is not relevant at all, cursive with its ornate and pompous loops and curls is actually significantly slower to write legibly then print. in the end, the sole “benefit” is making your handwriting look more pompous. also to people who have trouble with long handwriting anyway, it is flat out torture. which is fine as an elective, but is in no sense something anyone should be required to learn, only those specifically interested should bother with it. let cursive survive as an optional elective.