Educators warn of negative effects of not teaching cursive in schools
Lauren Sanchez teaches cursive writing to third graders at St. Francis Xavier Elementary School in Burbank, California.
July 8th, 2011
09:34 PM ET

Educators warn of negative effects of not teaching cursive in schools

Handwriting experts and educators worry that Indiana's choice to stop teaching cursive in schools could negatively affect a child's ability to learn.

The Indiana Department of Education joined 39 other states in adopting the Common Core curriculum, an initiative to phase out cursive writing in classrooms in favor of providing students more time to hone digital skills.

But some believe the move could adversely affect children.

"The fluidity of cursive allows, I think, for gains in spelling and a better tie to what they are reading and comprehending through stories and such and through literature," said Paul Sullivan, principal of St. Francis Xavier Elementary School in Burbank, California.

"I think there’s a firmer connection of wiring between the brain’s processes of learning these skills and the actual practice of writing."

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Filed under: Education • Indiana
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  1. JLB

    Many schools stopped teaching cursive a decade ago in VT. In my middle school we were required to write only in cursive, or type using a computer. Then when I went to HS in a different town I had to start printing again. When we did in class group activities my teams couldn't read my writing because it was in cursive! I remember being so shocked when they explained to me that they never learned cursive except as a concept and couldn't read or write in it. It felt like such a waste that I had been forced to write in cursive for so many years only to have to start learning to write in print again because the town where I went to HS didn't teach it. However I can tell you that those non-cursive learning students don't seem stunted by it. They are in the same types of jobs as my MS friends who were forced to write only in cursive.

    July 11, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • rowan

      but jlb ill bet youve got very good hand writing, its an art form. your time wasnt wasted.

      July 11, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  2. jalynne

    What do these kids do when they go to college and their professors write in cursive?

    July 11, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • john

      Clearly you didnt go to college, because no college uses cursive. All schools write in english characters as international students dont understand cursive, and with 30% of students being international...no college is going to turn away that business!

      July 11, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  3. Matt

    BTW – signatures are going biometric. That's how. Already on some IBM laptops. It'll be a finger swipe or retinal scan. The approximate level of "secureness" is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100x more secure for finger swipes and 1000x more secure for a retinal scan relative to signatures.

    July 11, 2011 at 10:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • rowan

      matt all of that involes technology. it often fails. what happens if gods forbid all power grids go down? none of what passes for a signature will be of any use. we depend on something that is bound to foul up occasionaly if the writing goes theres nothing left.

      July 11, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Calaban007

      Like said above, Rowan, writing will still be taught only cursive would be left out.

      July 11, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  4. Calaban007

    I don't care if they do or don't. Honestly the last time I wrote anything in cursive was when I was in school. Everything else has been done on a computer. It's faster and easier to type an email and send it than to write a letter, put it in an envelope, mail it, and wait a week for the reply. It is becoming obsolete in the world.

    July 11, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Matt

    I agree with Rowan that of course tech fails but less and less until it's not a thought. The first traffic lights were operated by a guy on the corner. Now when you get a green light on the way to work you don't instinctively look left and right too. You know it's going to be red the other ways. My newest children will grow up never purchasing a piece of physical media. CD's are gone and DVD/Blu-Ray is the last physical movie format. Things move fast. Sink or swim.

    July 11, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • rowan

      there are too many things that can go wrong. im not adverse to technology, i just think there should be a standby. as it stands now a good solar storm could fry everything now. we can not count on things that can be altered or destroyed completely by ignoring it. lol always have a plan b.

      July 11, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris S

      If you aren't looking left and right when the light turns green, you are an idiot. It's not about technology failing, it's about human error. And what happens when/if there's a major problem that renders computers worthless??? Kids don't know how to write cursive will be left in the dark.

      July 11, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  6. Diane

    This is a terrible idea!! Children need to be able to write, the idea that being able to communicate only in digital media is scary. Our children are already isolated by technology and are losing their ability to interact with others on a personal level. In fact it is time for schools to start teaching history and geography again. My youngest learned no geography and very little history in school. My husband and I taught her the bulk of these subjects. As the quote goes "people who don't know history are bound to repeat it" and anyone who knows history sees the same mistakes being made over and over today.

    July 11, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Les Grove

      Writing, and cursive writing, are not the same. I am 71 years old, and I have never had ledgible handwriting. Four years in the military, and I have printed my messages ever since. I have never had a problem. Both of my sons, college grads, print worse than I do, but they have held good jobs, and their children are all in college!!! I can remember when you could not use a ball point pen in school. I can remember when all left handers, wrote "upside down" so all the papers slanted the same way. Times change, it's not always for the worst!!

      July 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. john

    Cursive isnt used anywhere today outside of signing your credit card bill. Its a waste of time and stressful on children. I feel sorry for anyone who's children still have to learn it. Focus on building core skills that people need, such as reading, communication, working with others, and managing money (seeing how bad current society is with that).

    There is NO scientific data that supports any claims made above. Instead of worrying about cursive, why dont they focus on preparing students for the real world...not some fantasy world where everyone uses cursive outside of their credit card signatures.

    Get with the times, whats next on your cursive agenda, going to start teaching how the world is square again.

    July 11, 2011 at 11:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris S

      You can't get to where you are going, if you don't know where you've been. When there is 100% performance in electronics, meaning they aren't going to be affected by ANYTHING...then you can count the old method as obsolete.

      July 11, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • john

      Chris S

      what are you even talking about?

      Noone uses cursive outside of credit cards. Noone accepts checks anymore. Contracts/Mortages/Loans are all done online and more secure.

      You can make your signature anything you want...outside of that what do you need cursive for. Put it in a history book so you "know where you have been" and teach children valuable skills.

      July 11, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Geo

      I disagree – I use cursive every day. You may not but that doesn't mean no one else uses it either.

      July 11, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You're wrong, john. People do use cursive. I do, and frequently. Just because you can't or don't doesn't mean diddly.

      July 11, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • rowan

      john a well written letter is an art form. the only reason this is being considered is because of teacher layoffs and pay freezes. so continues the dumbing down of america.

      July 11, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan in Warrenville

      Actually, you can sign both your credit card bill and the check to pay it by printing - which is what the Indiana schools are teaching students (in addition to typing.) I've been printing my signature on checks since the 1970s, just because I have beautiful, distinctive, fast printing and slow, illegible cursive.

      Some people believe that printing is easier to forge, but they are mistaken. Printing is as unique as cursive writing.

      It would also be possible to make almost all purchases with a debit card or using a credit card online, and pay the credit card bills online.

      I, too, would like to see research that backs up Principal Sullivan's assertions.

      July 11, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      R. Shadmehr and H. Holcomb of Johns Hopkins University published a study in Science Magazine showing that their subject's brains actually changed in reaction to physical instruction such as cursive handwriting lessons. The researchers provided PET scans as evidence of these changes in brain structure. Further, they also demonstrated that these changes resulted in an “almost immediate improvement in fluency,” which led to later development of neural pathways. As a result of practicing motor skills, the researchers found, knowledge becomes more stable.

      July 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Phil in Oregon

    They can skip the 'cursive' part of the headline. Kids need to be taught about lots of different subjects, not just math, and reading. Math is the most important (look at how our leaders can't even balance their checkbook), but there are just so many more things kids need to know besides how to snort meth, use a pistol and work as a ho.

    July 11, 2011 at 11:17 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Anyone who reads these message boards can see that the quality of writing today is lousy. Writing in cursive does indeed affect the way people write-it requires the brain to function in a different way than does typing on a keyboard.

    The problem is that there is so much teachers are expected to do in a classroom each day that time for teaching cursive, teaching music, teaching art, and teaching other important skills and subjects is decreasing. Teachers have classes that are very different from those of decades ago-there are students who are disabled, have significant learning challenges, have sever behavior issues, are not yet able to speak English, and so on. The demands on the classroom teacher to cover more and more in less time make it impossible to do a thorough job, and to teach anything that isn't going to be measured on a standardized test.

    July 11, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    A side note: It's really too bad people no longer write letters and notes as they once did-not because it means cursive is less commonly used, but because e-mail is ephemeral and not nearly as personal as a hand-written letter.

    I have saved many of the notes and letters my loved ones sent me over the years, and I still re-read them on occasion. Seeing my mother's and father's handwriting brings back many fond memories. An e-mail can't begin to compete.

    July 11, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Noway

    I'm sorry, but a particular writing style has nothing to do with someone's ability to learn. Writing in general is necessary, but cursive is absolutely pointless. 99% of the time it is illegible even by the person who wrote it. The only advantage cursive might have is writing speed, but again that most likely has a lot to do with how illegible it often is. Maybe the people advocating would see more support if they provided some actual proof instead of their personal opinions.

    July 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How do you know it's "pointless"? One could claim that it's "pointless" to learn to play an instrument; after all, one can create music without all those silly exercises and scales, right? And why does anyone need to learn how to play music if one can simply listen to any classical piece on a recording? Why do we need to have any more musicians when we have scanners that can take a notated work and 'play' it on a computer?

      July 11, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Students who take the writing portion of the SAT are required to respond using (manuscript or cursive) handwriting. Think about which style makes sense (this is a timed test).

      As usual, this society throws the baby out with the bath water.

      July 11, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      If your only logical reason for teaching cursive is because the new SAT has a written section and it's timed, then you are flat out of anything else.

      July 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Maya

    This is asinine. They taught me cursive in third grade. I never bothered to use it outside of the classroom. I still print to this day. It may not be as pretty, but my handwriting is more legible than that of most who use cursive. The majority of signatures out there aren't even legible.

    Some people are trying to say that not learning cursive will somehow inhibit a child's understanding of the written word? What evidence do they have for this claim? I have yet to see one study that demonstrates a causal link between a lack of ability to write in cursive and a decreased reading comprehension or written composition ability. It seems people will make any claim to serve their purposes.

    July 11, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. GeorgeBos95

    Removing cursive from the curriculum will cause all those problems? Bull.

    Interesting theory, with, as seems all too typical in education, "feelings" masquerading for a substantive argument. As he states, "I think there’s a firmer connection of wiring between the brain’s processes of learning these skills and the actual practice of writing". Key phrase is "I think", rather than "we've proven".

    Part of the problem with the education system ... is the educators.

    July 11, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maya

      Precisely

      July 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • But why?

      by why remove it in the first place? what harm is it causing?

      July 11, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And part of the problem is azzholes who think they are qualified to render an opinion with nothing to back it up.

      Here's a clip I found. I am sure there are others. I'm not saying it's the final truth or proof of anything. It's surely more than any of you have been able to produce.

      According to Toronto psychiatrist and neuroplasticity expert Dr. Norman Doidge – When a child types or prints, he produces a letter the same way each time. In cursive, however, each letter connects slightly differently to the next, which is more demanding on the part of the brain that converts symbol sequences into motor movements in the hand.

      That sounds like brain development.

      In the September 2007 issue of Brain and Language USC Neuroscientist Dr. Joseph Hellige and Stanford/VA Aging Clinical Research Center post-doctoral fellow Dr. Maheen Adamson published a study of "hemispheric asymmetry for native English speakers identifying consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) non-words presented in standard printed form, in standard handwritten cursive form or in handwritten cursive with the letters separated by small gaps".

      These results suggest a greater contribution of the right hemisphere to the identification of handwritten cursive, which is likely related visual complexity and to qualitative differences in the processing of cursive versus print.

      Also sounds like brain development.

      Andrea Gordon sourced another neurologist who ties cursive writing to emotional circuitry as well.

      Dr. Jason Barton, a neurologist and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia, whose research focuses on the role of the human brain in vision. Barton's findings, using brain imaging, suggest we recognize handwriting the same way we distinguish faces, triggering similar emotional responses.

      His studies, among the first of their kind, show that while the left visual word form area perceives and decodes words for their meaning in written language, the right side is where we interpret the style of writing, allowing us to identify the writer rather than the word, just as neighbouring areas in the right brain play a key role in allowing us to recognize faces.

      As soon as that recognition kicks in, it activates what's known as a memory trace – a biochemical alteration in the brain created by something learned – and fans out, setting off other sensory memories.

      "Once triggered by perception – whether of a face, a voice or handwriting – memory reverberates through all the senses and in all the corridors of your brain, bringing back emotions, knowledge, all the different facets of information and experiences with that person stored from the past," Barton says.

      July 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kate Gladstone

      It's hard to take seriously the arguments that we need the difficulties of cursive in order to develop our brains. If the advocates of such a belief really supposed that difficult handwriting was important and good for us, they would be pushing to replace our alphabet by Chinese or hieroglyphs.

      Kate Gladstone — CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
      Director, the World Handwriting Contest
      Co-Designer, BETTER LETTERS handwriting trainer app for iPhone/iPad
      http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

      July 13, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. But why?

    Why are they phasing it out? I don't think simply saying that its falling out of use is legitimate. I am a musician by profession, I have never used or thought of y=mx+b since college, but I should have learned it, a great deal of what we learn in school isn't directly applicable in life. I think the real reason they do not want to continue to teach cursive is because it is difficult, it is difficult to learn, it is difficult to teach, I would be very surprised if the teachers in indiana have passable cursive. The bottom line is that in the way the government is trying to fix our broken education system is by trying to streamline what we are taught, but who is the government to say what needs to be taught? music, history, philosophy, art, literature, these are the things which have moved us forward as a society, not just math and science.

    July 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Stephen

    I haven't used cursive since someone made me as a child, but learning cursive and seeing my classmates' cursive did teach me to read bad handwriting pretty well. That counts for something.

    July 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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