Lifestyle

Should We Quit Teaching Cursive in a Digital Age?

While script may wire the brain, connect to history, and come more naturally to many kids, digital print is winning.

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Forget Marx vs. Mises. You want to get a spirited debate going, ask pretty much anyone over the age of 8: Should kids still be taught cursive writing?

I posted this question to Facebook, and for the next hour or two, every time I checked in someone was busy typing a response. Which, I think, proves my side of the argument: These folks weren't penning flowing notes on scented paper. They were using the most dominant method of written communication today: keyboarding. When most of your life will be spent tapping keys, why bother to learn two different ways of writing with a pen or pencil?

Because it is super-important historically, physically, psychologically, therapeutically, and cognitively—that's why, said the pro-cursive folks. And as I talked to teachers, therapists, and education gurus, it started to seem to this cursive-challenged gal that perhaps they have a point.

One of script's biggest benefits, they said, is that because the letters are strung together, it makes reading and comprehending easier (yes, even though books are rendered in print).

"First graders who learned to write in cursive received higher scores in reading words and in spelling than a comparable group who learned to write in manuscript," reported researchers in Academic Therapy in 1976. This could be because when a kid isn't lifting his pencil all the time, the linked letters provide "kinesthetic feedback about the shape of the words as a whole, which is absent in manuscript writing."

The gains can go beyond mere reading and spelling to processing whole thoughts. "Kids that write in cursive don't just form words more easily, they also write better sentences," claim the folks at Scholastic.

Is it possible we've been so focused on print that—like a toddler's lowercase bs and ds—we got it all backward? At many Montessori schools, that is the belief. There, kids learn cursive as early as age 3—before they learn print, says Jesse McCarthy, host of The Montessori Education Podcast. Then, using a "movable alphabet" of script letters, "you'll have a 4-year-old on the ground and they're basically writing sentences."

Barbie Levin, an occupational therapist in public and private schools, told me she has seen cursive work almost as therapy for some kids with coordination problems, learning disorders, or cognitive limitations that make it hard for them to learn how to print. "When a fourth grader is referred to me with poor handwriting," says Levin, "I can't unravel the handwriting habits of five years. But if it's within their capabilities…I teach them cursive. It's a fresh start, instead of harping on something they've given up on, and they are learning rather than unlearning. Also, they feel motivated because even 'the smart kids' (who they've been unfavorably comparing themselves to for years) don't know how." Once her kids get the hang of script, she says, they often do better not just at classwork but even at things like tying shoes and buttoning buttons. It's a win all around.

Beyond that, says retired elementary school teacher Michele Yokell, who was teaching an after-school class in cursive right up until COVID-19 hit, script "is part of our history—our heritage." You don't want kids squinting at the Constitution as if it's in cuneiform.

Yet despite all these boons, cursive seems to be going the way of the IBM Selectric—and for the same reason. While script may wire the brain, connect to history, and come more naturally to many kids, digital print is winning.

Cursive is not required by the Common Core curriculum, though a few states have mandated it. And a survey of handwriting teachers by Zaner-Bloser, a cursive textbook publisher, found that only 37 percent of them write exclusively in script. Another 8 percent write only in print, while most—55 percent—use a print/script mashup.

As do I. But 99 percent of my writing time involves a keyboard. So, sure, give kids a chance to learn script if print is tough for them, or if they want to research anything older than Betty Crocker recipes. Or maybe teach script and skip print. But teaching two ways to write the same letters when a third way—tap tap tap—is the real skill everyone needs? That seems as wacky as writing a capital Q that looks like a 2.

 

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  1. Cursive to me as a kid was a kind of drawing. And while I usually don’t advocate spending time teaching children things with little or no practical use, I say force the brats to do cursive.

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    2. Cursive to me as a kid was a way to ask the girl I liked to help me write and give me handwritten notes.

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  2. “is that because the letters are strung together, it makes reading and comprehending easier” Except this benefit is entirely lost because once you are out of the cursive class you never use it again and the ability to read it goes the same way as that foreign language you took a semester in. Also, it has the secondary drawback of if you do keep using it, your notes become the equivalent of the worst normal writing. Other people can understand it if they try, but its slow and tedious and “maybe you can just type them up”.

    1. Except that no, it’s not lost once you are out of the class. Other than my signature and one abortive attempt to take up calligraphy as a hobby, I haven’t written in cursive since I took a drafting class in junior high school. I don’t even print in lower case anymore. Yet I can still read it easily many decades later.

      There are decent arguments against teaching cursive. “You forget it as soon as you stop writing it” is not one of them.

      One of the strongest arguments for learning cursive is that it carries several of the mental benefits of learning another language. It wires the brain differently when you know how to express yourself in multiple ways. It creates a long-term increase in the brain’s plasticity and makes other learning easier.

  3. I believe it helps with understanding and comprehending words and there meanings. The physical act of writing focuses the mind.

    1. Their damn it. See what I mean?

    2. It does. Multiple studies have shown that students who take hand written notes in class have much better retention of the information than students who take notes on a lap top using a keyboard.

      That is why kids need to learn cursive. It is very difficult to print fast enough to take notes in class. And every kid should be taking written notes in class as they get older.

      1. “That is why kids need to learn cursive. It is very difficult to print fast enough to take notes in class. And every kid should be taking written notes in class as they get older.”

        It’s an argument for teaching kids Gregg shorthand, or something similar. Agree though on the handwritten notes thing, though it’s been years since I’ve been in that kind of class.

        I’d rather they learned cursive though, than whatever idiocy our modern education system will conjure up to take its place.

        1. I’d rather they learned cursive though, than whatever idiocy our modern education system will conjure up to take its place.
          texting shorthand and emojis?

          1. Quickly embedding memes, to .gif or not to .gif, ensuring everyone’s preferred pronouns are consistently used.

        2. just record the class and listen to it later.

      2. When I took notes in college they were a hybrid of print and cursive. Probably explains why you’re an awesome government lawyer while I’m a lowly DoD software guy.

      3. I always manage to take notes printing by hand. I agree that handwritten notes help. There were plenty of times I never even went back to my notes. Just writing things down helps you remember things.

        1. I never looked at my notes. Well, rarely. And when I did I was like WTF? Made no sense. Put it helped to imprint it into my mind.

          1. Taking notes is good for kinesthetic learners. Some learn best that way, while others are visual or auditory learners.

            1. “visual or auditory learners.”

              i.e., illiterates

      4. The courses I got most out of had two things in common:
        A) They were seminars in my thesis field (and now profession)
        and
        secondly) I took note in fast as quickly as I could (on paper, there were no personal computers) and then clearly, neatly, thoughtfully transcribed those notes later that day.

        The process of thinking and organizing the information, and the act of taking time to do the transcription accurately certainly helped me gestalt this all. Cursive was a nice touch, the final drafts are fun to go back and read. I was going to argue that it was the work of doing it twice was the magic and that I could have chicken scratched it to the same benefit, but the more I think about it, there is something to the idea of “flow” that welds it all into a more solid whole.

      5. Shorter John: Every kid should go through exactly what I went through in school, because that is the only way they will end up a complete and superior human being like me.

        1. Hell, I want them to be superior to me. That means being everything I can do, and more on top of that.

          NOT kidding.

          What I don’t want is brainwashing.

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  5. I remember my elementary school teacher insisting that cursive was “faster” than other types of writing. I only ever use it for my signature and even then I have to go slowly to make it legible. Essentially I think girls like it because it’s “pretty” compared to writing out block letters and that’s why it remains popular among elementary teachers who are overwhelmingly female.

    1. I used to sign my name in cursive when I wan a teen. My name is recognizable on my enlistment papers. My signature quickly evolved as I had to sign more documents and incorporated some influences from the Russian cursive I learned in language school. It is now an illegible, but personal, mark.

      1. Interesting that learning to write in a second language comes into it, particularly one that uses a different alphabet. Along the way, I learned the old German handwritten script – something most people have never seen, the lower case letters have a certain angularity, but it’s still cursive. I really had to slow down and think – maybe it would be easier after a while, but it does have a persistent influence. Thanks for the memory!

        1. particularly one that uses a different alphabet
          Cyrillic is based on Greek so it has some similarities to the Latin-based alphabets. They have letters that match English in form but not pronunciation (B is pronounced V, H=N, P=R, …). For added fun their cursive does weird things (printed Tt matches English but in cursive looks like English Mm, and their cursive Dd looks like English Dg).
          See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_alphabet

          1. my friends and I learned the runic alphabet from the Hobbit, so we could pass notes without other people reading them

  6. It won’t stop kids from cursing.

    1. You’re goddamn right, and what kind of bullshit is this, that if you fucking quit teaching kids cursive they’ll just stop cursing? This is the same sort of horseshit like we need to teach kids Arabic numbers for some kind of stupid fucking “inclusive” and “multicultural” reason. I say cursive writing and American numbers were good enough for me and it ought to be okay for them little bastards in school now.

      1. That reminds me of a time about 25 years ago when the boss lectured us about the coarse language we were using in the office. He went on a profanity-laced tirade, way worse than any of used, completely oblivious of what he was doing.

      2. it’s why you still have to write out the dollar amount in words on a check, even though you’ve already written the number using Arabic numerals.

        oh wait, what’s a check?

  7. The only difference I see is the connections between cursive letters requiring more practice to become second nature because they vary depending on what the two letters are. You can print one letter at a time, say if someone is spelling a foreign word or unusual name. But cursive requires lagging behind a letter or two. Doesn’t seem like enough difference to increase brain power.

    Might be useful to show the kids. Spend an hour a day for a week, a little practice just so they know what it is. Like doing long division or square roots by hand. Useful to know the process exists. Useless to memorize the process.

    1. It is useful to take written notes. Maybe some people can print as fast as they can write script but it is rare. And there is something about the physical act of writing that causes people to retain information much better than if they just listen or take notes on a keyboard. So cursive does still serve the same purpose it has always served in that regard.

      1. I can type faster than I can write by hand but I still prefer to hand write notes because I’ve noticed that, for me, comprehension is much better with physical writing.

        1. This. I keyboard a hell of a lot faster than I handwrite. I don’t recall nearly as much afterwards though.

        2. It’s easier to annotate handwritten notes, which I think helps with memory.
          Like I’m making a list of facts during a lecture and I see a connection between the first and seventh. With handwritten notes, I can quickly add a connecting arrow and jot down my thoughts on the connection.
          I’m teaching my 9yo cursive now. I do think it’s a faster form of handwriting and there’s something about the physical creation of words that helps the memory process

        3. I can type faster than I can write by hand but I still prefer to hand write notes because I’ve noticed that, for me, comprehension is much better with physical writing.

          I’ve noticed that my retention without notes goes up significantly if Clint Eastwood or Liam Neeson is shooting people but, even without such aids, it is still generally better than my wife’s and many other female’s first-pass retention of the same material.

      2. I believe kids should definitely be able to read cursive. However, for the rest, I believe cursive to be a proxy for other phenomena. I can type faster than I write by hand and probably twice as fast as cursive, but that means I spend less time focusing on the words as written and organizing the thoughts as a coherent whole. If I typed it all twice, or typed it once and then went back and re-typed it so that it all made sense and looked nice, my retention would probably be similar to if I’d taken the same amount of time to write it out.

        Similar has been done repeatedly across standardized education. Algebra became standard because kids who learned algebra did better at college and careers. Nevermind that kids who took algebra were more motivated to begin with. It would be stupid for college me, as a scientist, to hand write my assignments for my Child Development and Family Sciences elective.

        1. The studies all say retention is much lower when you type rather than write it.

          1. My point is this is a bit like saying that a phillips screwdriver is better than a standard one. The literature has, for much longer, said that (independent) repetition and restructuring of the information. If typing gets you more repetitions and makes it easier to organize and restructure the data, you might sacrifice first-pass retention for such advantages.

            Moreover, it assumes a rather narrow defintion of learning. I didn’t write or type probably 3/4 of the chemistry/biochemistry I learned. I think maybe once we did matrix operations in linear algebra by hand and did the rest computationally. I know since that time I’ve taken comparably fewer notes because I’m able to watch and then re-watch precisely what the instructors did, which renders a great deal of note-taking moot.

            1. said that (independent) repetition and restructuring of the information.

              …is more important.

    2. It’s for education. Weave cursive into lesson plans for a semester for the novelty. No grade. This is not rocket science.

    3. it’s not the flow or the connectedness of the letters that improve the young brain — it’s the physical hand-eye coordination. it’s the same reason music lessons are a good idea, particularly piano and violin.

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    1. Yeah, that’s my concern – if they stop teaching the kids cursive, what are they going to be teaching in its stead?

      I can see teaching cursive the same way you would teach a foreign language, the same way kids are taught Roman numerals, the same way they’re taught things they’re not interested in, the same way they’re taught art and music – a general education is necessary for a well-rounded person who at least knows a little bit about many things. And unless you’re exposed to a great many things, how do you know what you might be interested in or what you may be good at? Are we going to stop teaching Shakespeare because nobody talks like that any more and haven’t spoken that way for hundreds of years?

      1. “Are we going to stop teaching Shakespeare”

        You teach the Bard?

      2. Are we going to stop teaching Shakespeare because nobody talks like that any more and haven’t spoken that way for hundreds of years?
        We are going to stop teaching Shakespeare because he was white.

        1. Also, OMG, Othello, so problematic.

          1. It certainly won’t win any Oscars.

      3. If I get too proud of my achievements, or too tired and just want to quit, then comes to mind:

        “Now all my charms are overthrown,
        and what strength I have’s mine own,
        which is most faint…”

        (Prospero, The Tempest)

        We are but men, not gods. It’s good to remember that. Humility is not a bad thing, hubris gets us into trouble. Not what Prospero was talking about, but it’s a good second meaning.

      4. I’m surprised they haven’t canceled Roman numerals yet, since the Romans owned slaves. That and they’re terrible for writing out numbers or doing math, and you end up with SuperBowls numbered XXXVIII instead of “38”. It was cool when it was Superbowl I and II and III like they were world wars or something. They didn’t even call it Superbowl L, they skipped to 50 for one year.

  9. How do you sign your name without cursive?

    1. After many years of having to sign receipts, my signature is just a scribble. Takes too much time to attempt to make it legible.

      1. Why not just full Chineese and get a chop?

  10. Meh. Let the parents make those choices individually.

    1. Well that’s today’s question, innit? Would you teach your children cursive today?

      1. Would I teach my non-existent children cursive? Probably not how to write it. Maybe how to read it if they hope to get a worthless history degree.

      2. Yes, and Roman numerals, and Latin and Greek, Locke in the original, and the g.d. Communist Manifesto too. Knowledge may not be power, but ignorance is weakness.

  11. Calligraphy and other hand lettering as art has exploded in popularity in recent years because people get bored of digital everything.

    So why not incorporate it into art class for kids and make it fun? It’s probably the most useful art form, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable.

    1. i like this idea. i took a calligraphy class when I was maybe 10

      1. you know who else took a calligraphy class?

  12. Teaching Cursive is a great way to kill time, and allows kids tk feel like they are more adult. If people are worried about weather or not it improves a kids mental capacity should first get rid of the easy impediments like government schools. The time has to be filled somehow and it’s not going to be towards something useful, and given the state of the teachers unions it is looking like they will replace it with non-gender-binary-marxism trash

  13. You don’t want kids squinting at the Constitution as if it’s in cuneiform.

    Some people might want that. If the kids can’t read what it says then they’re far less likely to get any weird ideas about having “rights” and all that crazy shit.

  14. Forget cursive: just teach shorthand.

    1. They should teach ASL too. From the looks of it a high paid growing profession. No politico leaves home without one.

      1. Why????? I’ve been trying to figure that out in these days when subtitles / closed captioning are pretty much universal.

  15. >>Cursive is not required by the Common Core curriculum

    what *is*?

    1. Common core is not a curriculum, and nothing is taught by it. They are bureaucratic “standards.”

      1. While “common core” is bureaucratic it is worth noting that its origins are in business. It was the business world that push common core and see it as the basic skills necessary for their future workforce. Clearly they don’t see cursive as necessity.

  16. Easy answer, No. Cursive is used so little that sending time on is a waste. Parents who want their children to know cursive can teach it at home or hire a tutor. I believe that cursive should be an elective in the field of arts along with other writing form like calligraphy. It may be useful to people who eventually go into literature or history to assist them in reading works written in the past. For most people it will never be used in their real lives.

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    2. Easy answer, No. Cursive is used so little that sending time on is a waste.

      And that’s different from 99% of what’s taught in public schools…how?

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  18. As a left-handed person, I’d be happy for all those left-handed kids who won’t be forced to push a pencil or pen trying to recreate a flowing scrawl invented by people who easily pulled their pencils and pens.
    It’s one of a long list of things that discriminate against left-handers that can just fade away. Learn to read it? Sure. Forced to write it, no thanks.

    1. Your mind is small.

      If you had learned Arabic or Hebrew, you’d be at an advantage with lefthandedness. Most Asian calligraphy is equally enjoyable by left hand.

  19. In the long run, if you can’t read cursive the founding documents will say whatever the rulers want it to say.

    1. What about Roberts’ secret unabridged constitution? Should they learn cursive to understand what a ‘penaltax’ is or would manuscript suffice?

  20. “That seems as wacky as writing a capital Q that looks like a 2.”

    Well, at least we have stopped using “f” for “s” in the middle of words.

    1. I always thought “Congrefs” was a typo.

  21. Should We Quit Teaching Cursive in a Digital Age?
    While script may wire the brain, connect to history, and come more naturally to many kids, digital print is winning.

    Yes, Lenore! Tell us more about how “we” should collectively indoctrinate our children! It’s such a libertarian idea!

    How about the answer to this might depend on individual circumstances? How about “we” leave this to parents?

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  23. My mother wrote in a very clear traditional cursive, very similar to her sister’s and their mother’s (who taught first grade).

    For me, penmanship meant being exhorted to do better without any guidance as to how. In fourth grade (1968/9) I decided that my cursive was hideous, and stopped attempting all those fussy loops; but my writing remained mostly connected.

    My father, whose cursive was neat but not pretty, also eventually gave it up for simplicity.

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  25. You need to write in cursive to send those letters to friends and family in the mail. Oh wait…… I don’t use that anymore either.

  26. How will these kids ever execute a legal document?

  27. I think cursive should stay just for brain development and for experience learning systems of thought.

    But what really needs to be brought back is sentence diagramming. I’m totally serious. I think there is no better tool to understand the structure of the English language. It would tighten up writing and make for much more lucid and logical communication, especially for people planning to join professional work.

  28. How about Getty-Dubay Italic? If I understand correctly, it is a combined print/cursive system. The cursive letters are the print letters with ligatures. One does not have to learn very different letter forms. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getty-Dubay

  29. Widespread use of cursive isn’t particularly old, and there is no single cursive script. Cursive is a product of the mid 19th century, and it was intended as a sort of speed writing. Today, computer keyboards do that.

    Aside from Spencerian script, cursive is no more visually appealing than neat printing. If we really want to teach cursive, let’s teach Spencerian script as part of art class, with the intention of developing fine motor skills.

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