Reading and writing are fundamental to learning. But as more kids read and write via some sort of computing device — laptop, tablet, cellphone — how we teach those skills is changing, and one significant change is the decision to teach cursive. When it comes to equipping students with “21st century skills,” typing is in, cursive is out.
In part, the disappearance of cursive from the curriculum stems from the Common Core State Standards (now adopted by the majority of U.S. states), which no longer requires cursive as part of language arts and writing instruction. According to the Common Core’s mission: “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.” And the global economy, so the argument goes, requires students to be prepared to type, not prepared to write in cursive.
This isn’t to say, of course, that handwriting instruction itself is scrapped. Students will still learn to craft their letters, and plenty of students are still likely to curse the requirements for neat penmanship. But in lieu of requiring students to specifically learn cursive, the imperative now is to teach students to produce and publish their written work by typing and word processing.
Knowing how to type and how to create documents on a computer is obviously important. And for most people, writing in cursive is a rare event. Once touted as more efficient than print, typing is more efficient than either form of writing by hand. And as such cursive may seem like an extraneous skill.
Nevertheless, removing cursive from the curriculum has been controversial. Some have argued that learning cursive isn’t simply about learning how to write efficiently. It’s about learning how to write beautifully. It’s about fine motor skills. It’s about expression. And according to a report in The Wall Street Journal last year, there are a number of benefits to cognition and memory that come from writing by hand.
Some fear that if we stop teaching students to write in cursive, they’ll no longer be able to read cursive either, leaving a swath of written materials that will be undecipherable. Arguably, that’s something historians and archeologists have long faced; whether it’s cursive, calligraphy or otherwise, handwriting has changed immensely over the years.
And without cursive, how will people be able to sign their names, some argue, pointing to the one place where most adults probably do regularly use cursive in lieu of print. Of course, teaching cursive just so we can all add our personalized squiggle to the bottom of official documents probably isn’t an effective use of class time.
So is it time for cursive to go? Or should we retain it as part of the curriculum?