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Do Students Miss Out When Schools Stop Teaching Cursive?
The summer before third grade, I practiced writing my name in the beautiful curves of writing I associated with grown-ups. In third grade, I would become somebody. I would cast off the ugly old writing of my early school past and learn the beautiful swoops and valleys of cursive.
Years later, I watched my daughter do the same with her perfect-for-cursive name full of swoops and swirls. I wonder, though, if this tradition will survive to be passed to my youngest, now just three. If the nationwide trend to abandon teaching cursive continues, she may not learn it in school.
Many schools have banished teaching cursive
Schools have trended away from teaching cursive over the past decade. Between the rise of computers in the classroom and the new Common Core standards, script has in many ways already been abandoned. Currently, only seven states require cursive to be taught in school, though a variety of districts across the United States still teach the practice.
Education professor and New York Times commentator Morgan Polikoff argues that most people use print or typing to communicate, not cursive. He believes that school districts shouldn’t be required to teach cursive because, “there is little compelling research to suggest that the teaching of cursive positively affects other student skills enough to merit its teaching.”
Cursive advocates cite fine motor skills, content retention as benefits
Not so, say script advocates. They point to research that shows that cursive writing’s fluid motion can enhance hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills and that research shows different areas of the brain are used while writing in cursive than when using a keyboard. For some children with fine-motor dexterity challenges, the handwriting practice that comes with cursive learning can be of significant benefit for fine-motor exercise and strength.
More preliminary research has shown that the act of writing in cursive increases content retention, though cognitive scientist Karin Harmon James points out that because the study of cursive is just beginning, there is not definitive evidence to support or discredit the teaching of this skill. There is an additional benefit of learning cursive: an ability to read historical documents including the important pieces like the United States’ Constitution, journals, or letters.
Second grade teacher Marjorie Martin covers handwriting in her class despite wondering whether or not it has academic value, because she sees value in the writing process itself. Learning cursive requires patience and time and, “there aren’t too many things like this for the general population of kids anymore.” She appreciates teaching a skill that allows students to create a nice hand-written note.
Hybrid handwriting: Same benefits as cursive, used more frequently
Handwriting expert Kate Gladstone says that the practice of any type of handwriting has benefits similar to learning cursive. She advocates teaching handwriting without requiring students to write in cursive, saying, “Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.”
Some schools are trying a new method to teach handwriting. They introduce cursive handwriting and spend a small amount of time teaching the basics, then encourage students to develop their own style over time. This hybrid style of writing is what most adults tend to use: a convenient mix of print and cursive.
In light of increased content retention, fine-motor skills, and the ability to engage historic documents, students seem to benefit from studying cursive handwriting. However, they should also be free to adapt this historical skill to fit their daily needs.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.