Although cursive handwriting, the flowing style of handwriting where letters are joined together, is currently required of third graders in Georgia, the new Common Core Standards for English adopted by the state last summer makes no mention of it. Teachers and administrators from across Georgia will convene in March to decide whether or not to amend the standards and keep cursive as a requirement for our kids.
A basic question to start the discussion: Do today’s children need to spend time learning cursive?
Proponents consider it an essential tool for writing, an art form linking us to our past. Opponents say it’s outdated by new technologies and all but gone the way of vinyl records.
Cursive script is defined as rapid handwriting in which letters are set down in full and are cursively connected with words without lifting the writing implement from the paper. In the early 17th century William Bradford’s writings showed most letters separate (while still stylistically cursive), but 150 years later that had changed. Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the U.S. Declaration of Independence has most, but not all, of the letters joined, while the final draft was completely written in cursive. Eighty-seven years later Abe Lincoln drafted the Gettysburg address in cursive.
In the pre-typewriter days of the 18th and 19th centuries all professional correspondence was written in cursive and it needed to be mostly legible, if not stylish.
Today handwriting in general, much less cursive, is rarely used. When was the last time you set down with a pen rather than a keyboard to dash off correspondence via e-mail or text?
Most adults can remember getting grades on how neat or beautiful our handwriting was, with girls typically outshining boys in this arena. Two decades ago penmanship was considered a mark of education. That trend is changing and Georgia is one of 40 states whose new curriculum has no place for cursive.
For now, students are expected to be able to read and write legibly in cursive by the time they finish fourth grade but many teachers say there isn’t enough time in the day to spend practicing, especially in light of the many requirements for standardized testing. The shift in curriculum seems to be emphasizing the content of the writing and not how well the letters are linked together.
Elementary schools now advocate computer literacy every week, when students learn keyboarding either formally or informally. Watch a seven-year-old quickly peck and hunt on a computer and you’ll see how informal training takes over in the absence of any instruction.
Daily handwriting lessons have decreased, according to one Vanderbilt University study, from an average of 30 minutes a day to 15 minutes a day in elementary schools. As students get older many teachers prefer typewritten assignments, and it’s unlikely college professors would accept handwritten anything at this time.
Kids don’t write letters now; they send emails or text messages. As education gurus discuss the new curriculum in March they should consider that kids have already embraced the changing technology and align the curriculum accordingly. Is cursive necessary in an age where keyboards and texts rule the day?
Cursive lessons might still be taught occasionally, such as in history classes so that kids will recognize that the Declaration of Independence is not in a foreign language.
But we would challenge handwriting proponents to present scenarios where someone might be called upon to draft something by hand. Sure calligraphy is beautiful, but is it practical to today’s students?
With the almost universal availability of some type of keypad, students will be better off in typing class than writing class.