The debate about whether cursive writing should be a part of the formal curriculum is not new. It began soon after the introduction of the Remington typewriter in the 1870s and has ebbed and flowed over the decades in response to innovations such as Dictaphones, copy machines, computers, and other devices that support the transfer of information. The dominance of electronic communications and keyboard-based writing has intensified this debate and left many educators, policymakers, and parents wondering about the role and value of students learning to write by hand, including the development of cursive writing skills.
Interestingly, there have been numerous studies on the value of handwriting—including manuscript and cursive—and various methods of instruction. The most compelling findings cluster around the value of students learning to form letters, having an efficient means to convey thoughts, and developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination through handwriting. There also is evidence that learning to write offers benefits for developing reading skills and efficiency. However, there is far less compelling research regarding whether students should learn both manuscript and cursive writing, or if one form is better than another.
Certainly, keyboarding represents another means of communication. It removes the challenge of legibility and, depending on the technology, can support correct spelling, grammar, syntax, and other vexing aspects of handwriting. While keyboarding can be efficient, there remains value in students learning and experiencing the process of writing by hand. For example, studies have shown that note-taking by hand improves memory over note-taking via keyboard. Additionally, the act of forming and sequencing letters gives students a different relationship with writing than selecting the correct keys to press. Still, there is no doubt that writing via keyboard will continue to play a crucial role in how we communicate and has a place in the curriculum we offer to today’s students. It is less clear whether it will or should replace handwriting.
The handwriting debate intensified a few years ago with the publishing of the Common Core State Standards. Cursive writing was omitted from the standards and the decision regarding cursive writing instruction was left to local discretion. Meanwhile, instruction in cursive writing in schools has declined steadily over the past few decades. In fact, today only a minority of colleges of education include instruction on how to teach cursive writing. Consequently, fewer and fewer teachers regard cursive writing as a priority and are spending less and less time teaching students to write using cursive.
This debate is also occurring within an environment of increasing pressure for students to demonstrate learning of a growing array of topics and skills. With limited time, increasing accountability for learning, and competing priorities, how might we think about handwriting instruction and the role it should play?
First, the research on the value of handwriting is clear. There is value in students learning to write by hand despite advances in technology. We are not at a point where abandoning this aspect of the curriculum appears viable or wise.
Second, since most text to which students are exposed is in the form of print, it makes sense that they at least learn to write using manuscript. The appearance of letters and words students are reading and forming is most consistent in manuscript, so confusion is likely to be minimized.
Third, if the decision is made not to provide cursive writing instruction, students can still be taught to read cursive writing. While learning to write in cursive takes considerable time and practice, learning to read cursive can be done in a relatively short time—within an hour or so. Learning to read cursive also preserves for students access to historical documents and personal communication that is written in cursive.
Fourth, several surveys and research studies show that most older students and adults who have learned to write in cursive choose to use a combination of manuscript and cursive when writing by hand; therefore, learning cursive does not mean that it will be used exclusively. Additionally, signatures and other forms of official correspondence typically accept printed forms of handwriting, so students are not likely to be seriously disadvantaged by the absence of a full command of cursive writing. Even if cursive is not taught, consideration might be given to introducing students to the process of connecting letters in cursive form for purposes of signatures and other specific uses.
Obviously, there are political aspects to this decision. Learning cursive will be a strongly held value in some communities, and demands that students learn to write using this approach may be expected. Certainly, local perspectives need to be considered. Still, it appears clear that deciding not to teach students to write using cursive will not seriously impair their ability to communicate and achieve future success.
Blazer, C. (2010, March). Should Cursive Handwriting Still Be Taught in Schools? Miami Dade County Public Schools, Research Services. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED544702
Gurnett, K. (2017, August 15). The Great Cursive Writing Debate: Lost Art or Vital Skill? Retrieved from The Write Life website: https://thewritelife.com/cursive-writing-debate/