Several years ago, I was at a local high school preparing to take the PSAT. We were filling out the personal information before the actual test when we reached a section that required us to copy out an honor code promising not to release information about the test. The proctor explained that we would have to copy the honor code in cursive. She sounded almost apologetic as she instructed us, and she told us “just try to do your best.” While I was actually excited to write the honor code out as prettily and tidily as possible, many of the students around me groaned when they heard the instruction. My experience was not unique. In a 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal, high school junior Emily Freeman wrote, “The honor code was the hardest part of the whole [PSAT]…because it had to be written in cursive” (Freeman). Cursive is disappearing because it is no longer being taught in most American schools. Because the Common Core curriculum does not mandate cursive, many states and schools have dropped cursive education. Little do people realize the importance of keeping cursive, for cursive has many benefits.
One of the clearest benefits of using cursive is that it improves learning. One way cursive helps learning is by developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. In a New York Times article, columnist Katie Zezima writes that pediatric occupational therapist Sandy Schefkind “said that learning cursive helped students hone their fine motor skills” (Zezima). According to a Time article by Katy Steinmetz, another way in which cursive aids learning is that it activates different parts of the brain than print and typing do and often helps students remember information and generate ideas. In addition, studies have shown that students who have learned cursive perform better on reading and spelling tests than students who have only learned manuscript writing (Steinmetz). One reason for this may be because cursive connects letters together, helping the brain think of words as whole units instead of individual letters (Steinmetz). Psychologist Dr. William R. Klemm says that cursive “is an important tool for cognitive development” and causes the brain to integrate “sensation, movement control, and thinking.”
In addition to improving learning, cursive can assist people with handicaps. According to New York Times journalist Maria Konnikova, some people with dysgraphia, a condition in which writing is impaired, cannot write print yet can still write cursive with little impairment. Another condition, called alexia, involves reading impairments, and once again, some people who cannot read print can read cursive, or vice versa (Konnikova). Finally, cursive can help students with dyslexia. According to Washington Post journalist T. Rees Shapiro, cursive is an important part of the work that academic therapist Deborah Spear does with dyslexic students. Shapiro writes that “Because all letters in cursive start on a base line, and because the pen moves fluidly from left to right, cursive is easier to learn for dyslexic students who have trouble forming words correctly.” Because “b” and “d” in cursive are formed very differently, people with dyslexia are less like to confuse them. Also, the left-to-right flow of cursive keeps dyslexic students from accidentally reversing letters. According to a PBS news article by Elizabeth Jones and April Brown, learning cursive has helped students improve in school and overcome some of the impediments of dyslexia. Alec Falconer, a dyslexic student who went undiagnosed for almost ten years, began learning cursive and claims that doing so helped him in school, and he said, “My handwriting, my spelling, the way I put sentences together has definitely improved a lot” (Jones).
A final way in which learning cursive is beneficial is that it expands people’s reading and writing possibilities. Those who know cursive can read more historical and personal documents, such as the U.S. Constitution and handwritten letters from family. Knowing cursive enables one to write personal and professional-looking letters. In addition, according to graphologist Heidi H. Harralson, less complex handwriting is easier to forge than cursive (Zezima). Thus, while cursive may often be harder to read than print, this also means that it is harder to forge. A final benefit of cursive is that it enables people to create a personal penmanship. According to Kate Gladstone, the director of the World Handwriting Contest, a 2012 survey of handwriting teachers at a conference showed that more than half the teachers wrote in a hybrid style of handwriting that combined cursive and print. Once people have learned cursive and print, they can choose to create their own version by mixing the two styles and creating their own unique style that enables them to write with the most comfort and speed. Thus, learning cursive can open up other handwriting possibilities and combinations, allowing for more creativity and personality in penmanship.
When I was little, my sister began learning cursive, and I began imitating her. I filled notebooks with connected and repeating loops. Then I proudly displayed my work to my family, telling them, “See, I’m writing in cursive!” Learning cursive for real turned out to be a long, taxing process, but I am extremely glad I did. I can see how writing in cursive has helped me be more artistic, improve my hand-eye coordination, and hone my fine motor skills. If we really do allow cursive handwriting to disappear, it will be a loss both to education and to culture. I hope that other children can enjoy the fascination I had with cursive and the benefits that it produces. Let’s pick up our pens and write in cursive again so we can keep the skill that provides an important foundation for basic learning, development, and creativity.
Gladstone, Kate. “Handwriting Matters; Cursive Doesn’t.” The New York Times, 30 Apr. 2013, nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/04/30/should-schools-require-children-to-learn-cursive/handwriting-matters-cursive-doesnt.
Jones, Elizabeth and April Brown. “How Cursive Can Help Students with Dyslexia Connect the Dots.” PBS.org, 6 May 2014, pbs.org/newshour/updates/connecting-dots-role-cursive-dyslexia-therapy/.
Klemm, William R. “Biological and Psychology Benefits of Learning Cursive.” Psychology Today, 5 Aug. 2013, psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201308/biological-and-psychology-benefits-learning-cursive.
Konnikova, Maria. “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.” The New York Times, 2 Jun. 2014, nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?_r=0.
Shapiro, T. Rees. “Cursive Handwriting Is Disappearing from Public Schools.” The Washington Post, 4 Apr. 2013, washingtonpost.com/local/education/cursive-handwriting-disappearing-from-public-schools/2013/04/04/215862e0-7d23-11e2-a044-676856536b40_story.html?utm_term=.074ad2c44441.
Steinmetz, Katy. “Five Reasons Kids Should Still Learn Cursive Writing.” Time, 4 Jun. 2014, time.com/2820780/five-reasons-kids-should-still-learn-cursive-writing/.
Zezima, Katie. “The Case for Cursive.” The New York Times, 27 Apr. 2011, nytimes.com/2011/04/28/us/28cursive.html.
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