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CURSIVE: Outdated or Relevant?

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CURSIVE: Outdated or Relevant? - BC Parent Newsmagazine

I watched my daughter try to sign her name just above the signature line. She looked at me, a little lost. I felt sorry for her and frustrated that she had not been prepared for something so simple. Cursive hasn’t been taught in my kids’ district in years. They had become whizzes on computers, but what about something as simple as signing your name?

It made me wonder if cursive was a thing of the past or something worth reviving. It’s certainly a highly debated topic in educational settings. The role of cursive is ambiguous at best and there are no clear answers. One thing we can all agree on is that the role of cursive in modern education has changed.

Incorporating cursive in the curriculum had been on the decline, but it was in 2010 that we saw a drastic drop. With the implementation of more technology, there was a shift to more typing. That, together with the Common Core creating more rigorous classroom standards (in the US) made things particularly challenging. Something in the day had to go, and cursive was already questionable. It seemed like the obvious choice.

Education Week addressed this specifically, referring to an interview with Sue Pimentel, a lead writer for the Common Core Language Arts standards. In the interview, she explained, “that the decision was about
priorities—and that learning to use technology took precedence.”

However, for many, not having enough room in the curriculum doesn’t outweigh the benefits of teaching cursive. While some argue to let cursive go, similar to the way we abandoned the abacus and the slide rule for more modern instruments, we cannot ignore some of the benefits of cursive

The word that comes to the forefront of many cursive debates is signature. As with my experience with my daughter, we cannot ignore the need to sign our names on documents. And the truth is that many kids are growing up without the skills to do so. If education is preparing kids for life, are we doing them a disservice by eliminating cursive? Something as simple as voter registration becomes an issue for those that have never
been taught how to sign their names. Something as simple as voter registration becomes an issue for those that have never been taught how to sign their names.

Signatures lead directly to the second most common argument in favor of cursive: the inability to read historical documents because one cannot read cursive, can put people at a disadvantage. This argument is much more of a personal conviction than an official one, but it should not be ignored.

Some argue, however, that the ability to read cursive is a skill independent of the ability to write in cursive. Teaching kids the skill of simply reading cursive could be taught in as little as a thirty to sixty-minute lesson.
However, the arguments are not as simple as cursive semantics. The most surprising, and perhaps convincing arguments for cursive in the classroom have little to do with such specifics. They address more general benefits that could be easily overlooked.

Cursive can teach fine motor skills, increase the speed of writing, and aid in the creative process. While this may seem like a lofty argument, it goes beyond generalizations to specify the benefits to those struggling with dyslexia or brain injury.

The New York Department of Education took this argument further in their research to state, “Kids were better at processing information when doing so by handwriting as opposed to typing.” Discoveries like this have led New York, the largest public school system in the United States, to announce in February 2017 that they would be reintroducing cursive to the curriculum. Similarly, states such as Tenessee, California, and Louisiana reintroduced cursive, with Louisiana passing legislation mandating cursive in the curriculum in grades 3 through 12.

But maybe this is not an either/or argument. Virginia Berringer, a professor of educational psychology claims that “printing, cursive, and keyboarding activate different brain patterns, and that in some cases, students with certain disabilities may struggle with print but do well with cursive.” Perhaps we need to look at education as a toolbox, with teachers putting tools in and showing students how to use them. As they mature, students can pick the tools that work best for them.

There is likely no right or wrong answer here. The school day is filled with demands, and cursive is a casualty of more than just the digital age. When a child is in school for six hours a day that doesn’t mean that there are six hours allocated for traditional academics. You lose an hour of that for lunch and recess and likely a half hour for transitions. Subtract 45 minutes for a special and another 15 for a snack and your 6-hour day is down to four—and this is if everything goes smoothly.

The best we can do is evaluate the role cursive plays in each environment. My son just started cursive (thanks to a rogue teacher who still sees the value) and I was shocked to see that his typically messy, uneven printing was countered by smooth, thoughtful loops and curves of cursive.

It made me wonder, maybe it’s time we ask ourselves and our schools questions.
• Is cursive a good homework assignment?
• Is it just a filler activity?
• What is the role of typing?
• How can you implement a modern take on cursive within the full demands of a school day?
• Can I teach cursive at home?
The best learning always starts with questions. What questions will you ask for your children, their school, and their town, regarding cursive?

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