February 13, 2012
By Allyson Grennille
As classrooms advance into the 21st century, they may be leaving something behind: pen and paper. The Common Core Standards—released in 2010 and so far adopted by all but six U.S. states—have pushed cursive handwriting to the wayside in favor of keyboarding and other tech-based literacy learning. Though the Core allows states to supplement the required curriculum with cursive writing (or to delegate the decision to individual districts), several have reduced such instruction or opted out entirely, citing cursive’s lack of relevance to modern life.
Out of Touch?
Indiana made news in 2011 when the state announced it was dropping the cursive writing requirement from its public school curriculum. Though legislation to reverse the decision is currently being considered by state Senate Education Committee, the ongoing issue highlights several key aspects of the cursive writing debate. Anti-cursive critics argue that:
• Cursive writing isn’t a 21st century skill. As social interactions become more digitally-centric, the need for pen-to-paper correspondence is waning, while keyboarding has become an increasingly central skill. Beyond the prevalence of e-mail and texting, everyday transactions are also heavily tech-based: online banking and financial management, for instance, have rendered snail mail and check-writing largely obsolete.
• Teaching cursive is a waste of valuable classroom time. Though districts may elect to provide cursive writing instruction, some argue that it’s a waste of time to teach a subject that is no longer a part of standardized state assessments.
• Children can get by without cursive. Though proponents of cursive instruction note that a legible signature is necessary for adulthood, there doesn’t appear to be a great need for more extensive proficiency. Even higher-level standardized assessments—such as the ACT—typically do not require students to use cursive for written portions of the test.
Or…A Dying Art?
Proponents of cursive writing argue that legible handwriting is still a modern necessity. Several sources note that printed handwriting is easier to forge, for instance, putting students at a greater risk of identity theft in adulthood. Experts also note that:
• Cursive helps develop motor skills. A 2011 New York Times article quoted a pediatric occupational therapist, who argued that cursive helps hone “dexterity … [and] fluidity.” In California, where the cursive debate has also gotten serious media play, proponents highlight cursive as central to motor skill development. One California news article cited a teacher who has her third-graders draw cursive letters in the air to reinforce a fluidity of movement.
• Cursive is a useful back-up skill. Proponents argue that while digital technology may ultimately render old-school handwriting obsolete, students may need something to fall back on—some job applications may require candidates to write more than a line or two. Similarly, students unable to read cursive may be at a disadvantage if they need to reference documents produced in a pre-technological era.
• Writing enhances reading skills. A recent Huffington Post article highlighted Camperdown Academy, in Greenville, S.C., which uses cursive handwriting to aid dyslexic children in learning to read. The “built-in mechanics” of cursive help to solidify word-order comprehension. Proponents argue that even outside special education classrooms, cursive can be a valuable means of establishing students’ connections between writing and reading. The California news article cited above, for example, noted that “moving from block printing to cursive is analogous to the way a student learns to read by sounding out a word before moving on to speaking in a flow.”