Monday, November 25, 2013

If ditching cursive is in your script

   I hear the case made against teaching cursive writing, and it tells me this: My third-grade teacher, Miss Coleman, wasted my instructional time.
   And heretofore I thought her to be a wonderful lady.
   School reformers are saying cursive instruction is pointless because 21st century technology has made it irrelevant.
    Understand: School reformers are always right. But I must point out that in this instance, the case they make is nearly a century and a half late.
    The typewriter was invented in 1868. That technology which would quickly obviate the need for handwriting. Right, Miss Coleman?
    So, why in 1961, almost 100 A.T. (after typerwriter) were we learning cursive?
    Nine years after learning all that handwriting, I didn't pull out a quill to write my college-admission essays. A blue portable Smith-Corona did my pleading for me.
    Maybe it would be nice and quaint, say the school reformers, to continue teaching cursive, but what teacher has time? With all those school reforms to prosecute, that is.
    Interesting, it is, that it's teachers who say they'd prefer to make the time for it.
   The fate of cursive instruction is in the balance because the Common Core standards, adopted by a host of states with federal backing, gives it thumbs down.
   The Common Core is the latest effort to make children row as one in the learning regatta dominated by the Japanese, Germans and Chinese.
    I'll admit, the Common Core has some virtues. I like its cross-curricular approach to reading and writing. On the other hand, it also continues — indeed, accelerates — the troubling trend of making "workplace readiness" all that education is about.
     Across a generation of school reforms, policymakers have shown an accute inability to know the difference between true education (that which elevates the human mind), and training (done with military recruits and spider monkeys alike through repetition and reprimand).
    Lawmakers, many of whom had no buy-in to the concept of public education (their own children safely ensconced away from all that) set out to "fix" schools. The result: a tunnel-visioned emphasis on core subjects that, with standardized test scores attached, could be painted as promoting "excellence."
     Schools got the message: All that mattered was passing those state tests. Test-prep activities, scripted lesson plans and school ratings became fixations.
    This gobbled up increasing time, causing some reformers to say students didn't have time for extraneous matters like recess and physical education.
    Now I look back to my third-grade classes in the early '60s and wonder what Miss Coleman (who also sent us out for recess) was thinking. There she was teaching cursive instruction with sweeping arm motions, when we could have been calculating the missile trajectories of the Soviet arsenal bearing down on us.
     I shouldn't care about cursive. I generally print. However, a sadly resonant chord is struck when supporters of cursive instruction talk about it as an art form. It does more than convey thought on paper, they say. It develops aesthetic sensibilities, much like music and art, two other things some would jettison in the "accountability age."
    Actually, those who study such matters affirm that music and art make for better learners, even better math learners.
    I might support ditching cursive instruction if the time saved actually went to something truly instructive and elevating for children — like becoming expert and enthusiastic about how our government works, or doesn't. ("Class, today we will learn about the filibuster.")
    Since what is likely to replace handwriting instruction would be more of what already dulls down and crowds out real education, I say we keep teaching the art of cursive — yes, even in this, the age of typewriters with built-in TV screens.
     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


KateGladstone said...

Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources below.)

Reading cursive matters, but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. (In fact, now there's even an iPad app to teach how: named "Read Cursive," of course — .) So why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, including some handwriting style that's actually typical of effective handwriters?

Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. Among these are teachers of handwriting. In 2012, handwriting teachers from across the USA and Canada were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority — 55 percent — wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why exalt it?

Cursive's remaining cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you smarter, makes you graceful, adds brain cells, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

What about signatures? 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, then 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 all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger's life easy.
All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student 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/ 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

/2/ 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

Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at

[AUTHOR BIO: Kate Gladstone is the founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works and the director of the World Handwriting Contest]

Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone
Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
and the World Handwriting Contest

Escaped Waco Alive said...

Ah, a person with an agenda. Ms. Gladstone would be happy, I am sure, to sign...ah, print (or perhaps rubber stamp), her book for you or the ticket to her next contest.

Bethany said...

One point, Kate: the teachers you aforementioned, who according to you have "shunned" cursive. Technically only 8% did this. The others who wrote cursive or a hybrid did not. Yes, surprisingly (ha), the definition of a hybrid is bringing different elements together. Those hybrid using teachers did not throw cursive out. Rather, they developed a cursive/print hybrid that was unique and useful for themselves. Taking cursive away from new learners would limit the choices they have over their own handwriting. For many, cursive is a much faster mode of writing than print. How do I know? Because I am one of them. Learning cursive was never a waste of time, and if my son is not taught it while in public school then I will gladly teach him myself. Cursive is very much still alive, and will continue to be useful. Look back on your comment: "The majority — 55 percent — wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why exalt it?" The majority continues to find it useful and have not, I repeat, shunned it. You provided the best example against your own argument. Thank you.