Cursive in the Classroom

As society evolves, changes in both school curriculum and teaching styles are inevitable. Today's elementary school aged children are often surprised to learn that their parents did not have iPads or laptops in school when they were younger!

Cursive handwriting, also known as "penmanship," was once a common, if not required, lesson in the primary grades. After they mastered the skill of printing the alphabet to write words and sentences, it was mandatory for children to add those looping, swirling letters known as cursive to their handwriting repertoire.

Is Typing the New Writing?

As technology continues to advance, though, many school systems are removing cursive handwriting instruction from the classroom completely. In other schools, it is the teacher's decision, and many educators decide to opt out. The main reason being given for this big change? Computers, tablets, and smart phones are assuming a much greater role in everyday life, with people typing and texting rather than writing. This isn't just an assumption, it's backed up with data; according to a Pew Institute survey, the number of text messages sent each month in the United States rose dramatically from 14 billion in 2000 to 188 billion in 2010, reports CNN.

Even so, a 2013 study mentioned by The Washington Post found that as many as 75 percent of second- and third-grade teachers were including cursive lessons in their classrooms, but the practice is on the decline. A 2010 report by the Miami Dade school system found that cursive classroom instruction has been weakening across the United States since the 1970s. Thanks to educational budget cuts, many U.S. schools are opting to omit cursive instruction completely.

Why is Cursive Being Ignored?

Cursive instruction is supposedly dropping from more and more public schools in recent years as states adopt the Common Core national education standards, which do not place any emphasis, nor require learning, on writing in cursive. Today's educators are spending more time preparing their students for required standardized tests than worrying about pretty handwriting. Skills that will be "tested" are given top priority by teachers.

Including—or omitting—cursive handwriting lesson plans in elementary school curriculum has understandably led to considerable arguments from both sides. Some educators and parents feel learning cursive is a necessary skill; others see cursive as a declining trend that will be considered archaic in the near future. Before taking a stance, though, it's important to think about both sides of the cursive coin.

Potential Pros of Learning Cursive

Fans of cursive handwriting may argue that it is prettier than block print, which is a matter of opinion. Consider the following, however:

  • Signatures are required on bank checks, leases, contracts, insurance paperwork, and many other legal documents. Students who never learn how to write in cursive won't be able to sign their own names!
  • If you "sign" your name in block letters on one of the above-mentioned items, chances are higher that someone can fake your signature. Printing is easier to forge than cursive.
  • Cursive writing will soon look equivalent to a foreign language if people are unable to write it or read it. Old family letters and journals, or even historical documents like the Declaration of Independence, will be difficult (if not impossible) to decipher.
  • Learning cursive helps children develop fine motor skills such as hand-eye coordination and muscle control.
  • Writing in linked-together cursive forces the writer to think about the word as a "whole" rather than in "parts." Studies have found that children who learn how to write in cursive often score higher on spelling and reading tests.
  • Some psychologists and neuroscientists believe that writing in cursive may aid in preventing the reversal and inversion of letters for people with learning disabilities, explains this New York Times article.

Potential Pros of "Quitting" Cursive Instruction

  • In high school classrooms and college lecture halls, most students take notes on laptops and tablets than with pen and pencil. When actual handwriting is required, students can still print rather than write in cursive.
  • Handwritten greeting cards and letters are quickly being replaced with e-cards and emails, which can be typed.
  • Handwriting has already evolved considerably over the years. For example, switching from quill pens to fountain pens to ball point pens has made the physical process of writing change over time.
  • Computers aren't completely to blame. Similar arguments rose when the typewriter became common in offices as well as households.
  • It might sound sad to some, but it's true—many people honestly don't care what their writing looks like.

As you can see, there is no one right or wrong answer to the great cursive debate, but one thing is for certain—there will continue to be advocates as well as opponents for cursive in the classroom.