Should This Blog Post Have Been Written in Cursive?

hanelly
Andrew Hanelly Director of Digital Strategy, TMG

Posted on July 30th 2011

Should This Blog Post Have Been Written in Cursive?

cursive writing

I recently learned that Indiana, my beloved home state, is no longer requiring schools to teach cursive writing, focusing instead on printing and typing.

I remember struggling to perfect my cursive writing in Mr. Biltz’s fifth grade class. But I never came close to the beautiful script of my teacher. If there were an Olympics for penmanship, surely Mr. Biltz would have brought home the gold every time. As for me, I got Cs, the only ones of my elementary career.

But did I truly deserve those Cs? As future generations pass through each grade, digital communication will undoubtedly ease the burden of information transfer.

Should “antiquated” skills like cursive be phased out of institutional learning or do they still provide value?

It caused me to wonder, what other skills we may be losing in the digital age—and more importantly—should we care? 

A few come to mind, along with cursive:

  • Long division
  • Multiplication tables
  • Spelling and grammar
  • Any historical fact (in the age of Google)

What would be left to teach kids? You might think I would give an empathetic sigh—finally!—for all those kids who no longer have to endure what my generation did in elementary school. But, I can’t help feeling there is something terribly wrong with not teaching cursive anymore, and I felt sure I wasn’t alone.

However, I was surprised to learn that my fellow editors did not share my fears. TMG Editor Matt McLaughlin said he hasn’t used cursive in 30 years and thinks it’s harder to read and less practical than block letters. Interestingly though, his 8-year-old daughter is fascinated by cursive writing.

TMG Editor Corey Murray has no problem with eliminating cursive. While students, of course, need to know how to read and write, Murray points out that no one handwrites letters anymore and no employer will be asking for a handwriting sample. “Technology has and will continue to fundamentally alter how people communicate,” Murray says. “And schools have a responsibility to stay on top of these changes. There’s hardly enough time in the school day as it is.”

The only real support I found for cursive writing had little to do with what the words mean or how the practice helps you learn, but what handwriting looks like. Some lamented what would happen to typography if cursive were eliminated. Cursive writing is an art form, one that show’s a person’s unique personality. Through the ages, handwriting has been a part of our history and culture. Will that be lost?

Cursive is certainly faster than printing, and some suggest it’s an important tool for children to learn eye-hand coordination. I also wonder if it’s a critical part of how kids think and process ideas. I still use cursive on paper when I’m taking interview notes or brainstorming ideas. Is there a link between how I choose to write and how I think?

A Newsweek article seems to support this idea. Experts interviewed for the article said kids are learning how to learn when they are mastering handwriting and that handwriting needs to be fluid, something kids don’t need to think about. Speed is also important. If cursive disappears, will we realize one day a gap in students’ learning, a hiccup in their thinking process?

What do you think? Is cursive an integral part of students’ learning process or an antiquated waste of precious school hours?

[Image: fung.leo]

 

 

hanelly

Andrew Hanelly

Director of Digital Strategy, TMG

Andrew is Director of Digital Strategy for TMG and for one semester in college, was a sociology major.
See Full Profile >

Comments

Posted on July 30th 2011 at 6:47PM

Just a point of clarification, this was actually written by Melanie Powers (a colleague of mine) on the Engage blog. 

Posted on July 31st 2011 at 5:51PM

I'll listen to an argument that says we learn something more than how to get words on a page when we learn to put pen or pencil to paper. But we can't say that is unique to cursive, a Western script, or we are disenfranchising a significant protion of the world. If it were speed that was important, then shorthand would be a better thing to learn than cursive. I also know plenty who'd rather type because even in cursive, they can't keep up with their own thoughts. I don't buy the link between thinking and hand-writing either--we have a huge body of evidence from pre-literate cultures to support a contrary argument. 

Yours is not a question that gets a straightforward answer!

tSherrell
Posted on August 1st 2011 at 5:11PM

 

Logically, I have to agree with Brad's comment above - but, I can't stop myself from lamenting the loss of this art-form (as well as many other subjects we were forced to endure in elementary).
Just the other day, I heard the story of a girl who happened upon her deceased Grandmother's diaries. She was not able to read them for the lack of training in cursive.
I understand the argument about relevance and limited time for education. I wonder if at some point we as a society will wish we didn't hand over to technology so much that our brains and hands did before. It worries me when I work out math problems with my kids and learn what they are not required to understand in our world of advanced technology. (And here I work in UX - go figure...)
Logically, I have to agree with Brad's comment above - but, I can't stop myself from lamenting the loss of this art-form (as well as many other subjects we were forced to endure in elementary).
Just the other day, I heard the story of a girl who happened upon her deceased Grandmother's diaries. She was not able to read them for the lack of training in cursive.
I understand the argument about relevance and limited time for education. I wonder if at some point we as a society will wish we didn't hand over to technology so much that our brains and hands did before. It worries me when I work out math problems with my kids and learn what they are not required to understand in our world of advanced technology. (And here I work in UX - go figure...)

 

Posted on August 1st 2011 at 6:27PM

Brad, I think you made a really good point about the shorthand (I was going to say that myself but you beat me to it!).  I would not be offended if cursive was eliminated from the curriculum as long as something relevant and useful was added in its place.  For instance, I just found out that my former high school has added "emphasises" to their degrees, meaning that students can specialize in math, science, technology, etc... times are a'changing! 

Though I wouldn't say that we should eliminate history entirely from schools simply because you can Google any fact (though that would be an interesting social experiment) I would agree that schools, and high schools in particular, might want to rethink their curriculum to match the technological-based society that these kids will be moving into soon. 

Posted on August 4th 2011 at 2:11PM

Cursive writing was a rite of passage, once upon a time. It coincided with moving from pencil to pen (and often from simple words to complete, coherent sentences). It's a skill that I don't think should die, even in these days of keyboarding. I tend to write notes in cursive; it's easier than typing because you don't need to fire up an electronic contraption, just grab a pen and paper. If people learn cursive, they improve their eye-hand coordination, and they can later choose whether to continue using it.

 

But the thought of discontinuing subjects like history should be stifled immediately. Yes, we have Google, but it's "pull" knowledge. The user has to know the question he or she wants answered and actively seek the knowledge. Subjects in school are "push". Whether or not the kid thinks history is important, the subject is on the curriculum. A lot of people wouldn't study math (or even arithmetic), were it not required. That's dangerous. Even now, many have lost what little numeric literacy they were taught; they have no idea, for example, if the change they get is correct. I had a battle with a student who insisted he was giving me the right change at a restaurant "because the computer said so", when in truth he handed me three times what he should have. He had no sense of the relative size of the amount. And he may some day be designing critical systems. Scary!