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Lionel: Cursive writing is an anachronism

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  • kategladstone

    A lot of people, lately, have made lots of noise about the death of cursive handwriting. They don't want cursive to die, because they don't want handwriting to die. However …

    Research shows that the fastest, most legible handwriters join some letters, not all: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, using print-like shapes for letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations in next message.) Yet cursive programs and teachers strongly discourage such practices. Students learning cursive are taught to join all letters, and to use different shapes for cursive versus printed letters.

    What about reading cursive? This matters, as long as we have any cursive to read.. However, cursive's cheerleaders forget that one can learn to read a style without producing it. (This is fortunate. If we had to write a style to read it, we would have to learn to read all over again whenever a new font was invented.)

    It is odd that — so far — the legislators clamoring for cursive are almost all Republicans. (Doesn't the Republican party portray itself as the champions of minimized government, of minimal regulatory interference in education and elsewhere? Why, then, urge government control over handwriting?)

    It's even odder that the documents the cursive clamorers most often name (as their evidence that we need to write cursive style for the sake of reading it) are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Some material in each document — the Constitution's "We the People," for instance — is penned, not in cursive, but in elaborate "Olde Englishe" Blackletter. Yet no legislator crusading for a cursive writing mandate (on the grounds that we need to read our founding documents) is crusading also for a mandate of Blackletter.

    Of course cursive is harder to decipher than even the most elaborate Blackletter calligraphy. Simply reading cursive, though, can be taught in 30 – 60 minutes: even to a five- or six-year-old, once the child can read other writing. Why not teach children to read old-fashioned handwriting, and to write in some simpler and more efficient way themselves?

    Most adults, by the way, no longer use cursive. (In 2012, a survey of handwriting teachers attending a conference sponsored by Zaner-Bloser — a well-known handwriting publisher which strongly advocates for cursive — revealed that only 37% of those surveyed actually used cursive for their own handwriting; another 8% wrote in print. The majority — 55% — wrote a hybrid: some elements of print-writing, some elements of cursive writing. Given this, and given our knowledge of how the clearest and most rapid handwriters produce their writing, how sane or practical is it for any legislator to demand compulsory cursive?)

    Of course, the idolators of cursive have other arguments. They sometimes assert that cursive has powers beyond any other form of handwriting. Those making such claims include, increasingly, state legislators striving to persuade their constituents and their fellow legislators that the responsibilities of the state must include requiring all students to learn and perform a cursive style.

    Now and then, the rah-rah-cursive cheerleaders assert that their claims come from research which (we are assured by the speechmakers) proves indubitably that writing in cursive makes you smarter, or that writing in cursive makes you more graceful, or that writing in cursive teaches you prettier manners, or that writing in cursive is necessary for activating both sides of the brain, or that writing in cursive otherwise confers any number of other gifts and blessings which are no more evident among the cursive crusaders than among the rest of us.

    When the cheerleaders of cursive make those claims, they rarely give citations either up front or on request. When — unusually — a citation appears, the cited research proves— always, so far — to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the person presenting it as favoring cursive.
    A good example is the research that has quoted in North Carolina's cursive mandate testimony this month. The author of the bill, Representative Pat Hurley, testified to her state's House Education Committee that she had PET scan research showing that the brain "doesn't work" when one is keyboarding. She also claimed the same research proves that "only one half" of your brain is at work if you are writing in print, and that "the whole brain" is at work whenever you're writing in cursive. When I asked Rep. Hurley for the research showing this, it turned out that the research doesn't say what she had testified that it said. Actually, it turns out, cursive doesn't turn on any more of your brain than printing does. Writing — in cursive or printed style — uses one side of your brain: keyboarding uses both sides.
    (When I asked Hurley about the discrepancy between her testimony and the science she was using to support it, she didn't answer that question. I wonder what would have been her answer — or what might be yours — and which side of her brain was responsible for her silence.)

  • kategladstone

    Another claim often made is that cursive is needed for signatures. Brace yourself:

    whatever your schoolteachers may have been told by their schoolteacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Hard to believe? Don't take my word: ask any attorney. Then take the attorney's answer to your local school, and ask why they are still teaching kids that signatures need cursive. If the principal or teacher mutters something about only cursive being individualnor identifiable,mpoint out that any first-grader's printed writing can be immediately identified by his or her teacher, even on unsigned work.)

    Neither common sense, nor fact, nor legal necessity, supports the idolatry of cursive. To mandate cursive handwriting in order to save education or the written word is like mandating stovepipe hats and crinoline petticoats in order to save 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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H29

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

  • S. Cruz

    The fact that I am electronically responding without electricity this would not be possible. We have become too reliant on instant everything. Writing a letter, note or a book will always be needed. If you doubt the need for cursive writing try and read your prescriptions. Try to remember an idea long enough for you to get home and boot up your computer. Now people can't give you change or remember a phone number without some device, books are on the way out soon like the long playing record but drop your phone, nook or iPod in water and its garbage. A tissue with that phone number on it will dry and continue to be useful (if its not written with a felt marker).

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