Keyboards are overrated. Cursive is back and it’s making us smarter

Ephrat Livni:

The proliferation of devices in daily life has led to an international handwriting crisis. Teachers, parents, and politicians around the world are debating why they should bother spending time teaching what some say is a dated skill. Accustomed as we are to speedy, wifi-connected devices, we’ve come to prize the efficiency of typing and there seems to be no point to picking up a pen and scribbling on paper when keyboarding is so convenient, neat, and easy to copy-and-send.

Yet print and its squiggly cousin cursive are making a comeback in some US schools after scientific studies have proven their cognitive utility and because parents are clamoring for the preservation of the practical skill. For example, starting this fall in Louisiana, third to 12th graders will again study penmanship after a law was passed making it a requirement in 2016 (teachers got one year to prepare). Fourteen states in total are now including cursive in curricula after a decade where it seemed doomed to become an abandoned and outdated art.

  • KateGladstone

    Handwriting matters — does cursive? Research shows that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are available on request.)
    Further research shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive. They join only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving others unjoined, using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.
    (Many people who think that they “print” actually write in this practical way without realizing that they do so. The handwriting of many teachers comes close: even though, often, those teachers have never noticed that they are not at all writing in the same 100% print or 100% cursive that they demand that their students should write.)

    Teaching material for such practical handwriting abounds — especially in much of the UK and Europe, where such practical handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive that too many North American educators venerate. (Again, sources are available on request.)
    For what it’s worth, there are some parts of various countries (parts of the UK, for instance, despite their mostly sensible handwriting ) where governmental mandates for 100% joined cursive handwriting have been increasingly enforced, without regard for handwriting practicality and handwriting research, In those parts of the world, there are rapidly growing concerns on the increasingly observed harmful educational/literacy effects (including bad effects on handwriting quality) seen when 100% joined cursive requirements are complied with:

    Reading cursive, of course, remains important —and this is much easier and quicker to master than writing cursive. Reading cursive can be mastered in just 30 to 60 minutes, even by kids who print.
    Given the importance of reading cursive, why not teach it explicitly and quickly, once children can read print, instead of leaving this vital skill to depend upon learning to write in cursive?

    Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by cursive textbook publisher Zaner-Bloser.. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. Most — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
    When even most handwriting teachers do not follow cursive, why glorify it?

    Cursive’s cheerleaders allege that cursive has benefits justifying absolutely anything said or done to promote it. Cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly allege research support — repeatedly citing studies that were misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant or by some other, earlier misrepresenter whom the claimant innocently trusts.

    What about cursive and signatures? Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
    Questioned document examiners (specialists in the identification of signatures, verification of documents, etc.) find that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if following cursive’s rules at all, are fairly complicated: easing forgery.
    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual. That is how any first-grade teacher immediately discerns (from print-writing on unsigned work) which child produced it.

    Mandating cursive to save handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to save clothing.

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works