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Should Cursive Handwriting Still Be Taught in U.S. Classrooms?

New federal standards in 2010 stopped requiring public schools to teach cursive — but are students worse off for it?

file photo
file photo

By Melinda Carstensen

Some states are fighting to keep cursive handwriting in classrooms, but in most U.S. schools it’s on its way out.

Since 2010, 45 states and the District of Columbia have followed Common Core Standards, which give schools the option to teach cursive but don’t require it.

As writing moves to tablets and computers, and state standardized tests dictate teachers’ curricula, many educators no longer feel cursive is worthwhile.

“When you think of the world in the 1950s, everything was by hand. Paper and pencil,” Steve Graham, an education professor at Arizona State University, told the Washington Post. “Right now, it’s a hybrid world.”

Graham, who is an expert on handwriting instruction in the United States, said by 12th grade about half of classroom assignments are written on computers.

“The question is why teach two forms of writing when one will do the trick?” he told the Post.

In Tennessee, lawmakers are fighting to keep cursive handwriting in classrooms, but most U.S. public schools have abandoned that battle.

Tenn. Rep. Sheila Butt believes that removing longhand from instruction will be detrimental to the “heritage” of American classrooms. 

After parents reported their kids couldn’t read their teachers’ cursive handwriting, Butt introduced legislation that would require that instruction in her state’s public schools.

Some states, such as the Patch areas of Georgia, Massachusetts and California, have taken steps toward making cursive mandatory. In Tennessee, however, it never had been a requirement under Common Core Standards, NPR reports.

Studies have shown that cursive handwriting helps children with their fine motor skills, and can even lead to better grades.

The Post cites a 2006 College Board report that revealed SAT essays written in cursive scored higher than those written in print.

Some educators say offering the option to write in cursive can help even the playing field in classrooms, as students with dyslexia often have difficulty writing in print.

“It’s because of the various areas of the brain interacting,” Marilyn Zecher, a former teacher and language specialist at the Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center, told PBS. Compared with print, cursive can help dyslexic students decode words, as it integrates hand-eye coordination and other brain and memory functions.

Keeping cursive around for consistency’s sake may be the most powerful argument of all.

When 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel testified during the murder trial of George Zimmerman, she couldn’t read a letter that a lawyer handed her. It was written in cursive.

Butt, the Tenn. Rep., argues the U.S. Bill of Rights and the Constitution were written in cursive, and American students should be taught the skills necessary to read them in their original form.

“To say that we've educated our children in Tennessee and taken away this form of instruction — this link to our heritage — out of our classrooms is a grave disservice to the young people of this state.”
Kate Gladstone June 24, 2014 at 09:30 AM
I can spell any word that I must spell orally or in handwriting. My dysgraphia (of a form which affects finger movements) shows up much more when typing. If you like to apply the label "stupid" to people with motor disabilities, go right ahead — that says much more about yourself than it says about your target. By the way, my use of the word "stupid" was in response to Russell Archambault, who apparently believes that only such persons are ever sent to public school. (Even if that's so, why exclude them from learning some adequate form of handwriting?) If you oppose the word "stupid," oppose Mr. Archambault and not only me.
Andie June 24, 2014 at 10:33 AM
Kate when referring to someone else's comment like the word "stupid" it should be put in quotes so people don't think you're the one saying it. Like I did. I'd like to make one thing VERY clear to you about your comment " If you like to apply the label "stupid" to people with motor disabilities, go right ahead" My intention was not to "label" someone with a motor disability as stupid. I work in the mental health field and I'm an advocate who also has a child with a disability (Autism). When these posts first started out long ago I seem to recall you saying you also had Aspergers. I apologize if you were offended. Just for the record I'm in favor of cursive writing to be taught in schools.
Sara June 25, 2014 at 07:05 AM
Hey "Voice of Reason" - make your own post instead of just commenting on everyone else's with "WRONG". That makes you seem like you lack intelligence. Maybe you don't like cursive because you don't know how to read or write it? Also, it's not like it should take years to learn cursive so it's not really wasting time in school - you can learn it along side other languages, which is what we should be teaching as well.
Lee Jacobsen June 25, 2014 at 07:37 PM
Let's learn cursive , or make time to learn it, by eliminating the 3 months off to plant and harvest the crops which none of us do anymore. In other words, year round school with occasional breaks like the rest of the civilized world does, and one reason they are way farther up the educational ladder than our kids are. What are we now, 34th in the world in math?? Cursive takes at most a month to learn, longer for the 'inept' ones, but that is to be expected. 'John Hancock' would be proud, plus, what if the doom comes, and the power and technology is gone?? Aka the Walking Dead'. We need cursive as a backup system, at the very least block lettering, plus, the govt can't lose emails if they are cursive and on paper...not as easily....forgot about the FL chads.....
Raymond Handler July 04, 2014 at 08:19 AM
Absolutely! The Palmer method.

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