When I was an elementary student in the 70s (no comments form the peanut gallery, please!) penmanship was taught and practiced daily. I enjoyed penmanship class and on non-school days, I filled spiral notebooks with cursive writing — I wrote out the states and capitals, the presidents, long lists of prepositions, the Gettysburg Address — just because I enjoyed practicing my penmanship! (Yes, I was that student!)
It’s not unusual in today’s educational and political climates to hear heated debates about the demise of cursive writing in today’s educational system. Opponents of Common Core lambast the Initiative for omitting cursive writing from its teaching expectations. Some say cursive is obsolete in a digital world. Others argue that the demise of cursive indicates the demise of education in our country. Some argue that students will not be able to read historical documents. Others counter that they will not need to — they will be able to quickly and easily find the contents of historical manuscripts online.
I once taught in a K-8 school that taught only cursive writing from Kindergarten on. In addition, students were only allowed to write in cursive. None of the students were allowed to write in manuscript at any time — ever.
I asked many questions about this. I was told to watch toddlers scribble and “write” — when toddlers scribble, they always use cursive-like loops and connected rounds. Toddlers generally don’t scribble in solitary circles and sticks. As far as physical dexterity, cursive is more natural for children to form than manuscript.
Research also shows that cursive writing increases hand-eye coordination and engages creativity in the brain in a way that manuscript does not. In fact, there is an entire movement called “Cursive First” that puts forth research claiming that teaching children to write in cursive before they learn to write in manuscript increases their reading skills later on and decreases dyslexia issues. Regardless of one’s stance on this data, extensive research proves that teaching cursive first definitely eliminates letter reversals.
I asked how students learn to read if they never learn to write in manuscript, as all the books they read are in manuscript. The answer: It just wasn’t a problem — because all the books students read from were in manuscript, they just naturally connected reading to manuscript and writing to cursive.
In that particular school, I never taught penmanship in my sixth grade class. I didn’t need to . . . every student had beautiful, easy-to-read cursive penmanship — an English teacher’s dream! — but it had been expected of them since Kinder. Every year, every teacher expected legible writing on all assignments and students who wrote illegibly had to re-do the assignment . . . 100% of the time. Because high expectations were consistent and regularly enforced, illegible writing was a non-issue school-wide. (Incidentally, and perhaps irrelevantly, that school has tested in the top 5% of their state at every grade level for 20 years, with zero exceptions.)
Since leaving that school, reading students’ writing is often the bane of my day. I still don’t teach penmanship — there’s just not enough time in the day. In Middle School, I’m squeezing reading, writing, literature studies, poetry, and spelling into a 50-minute ELA block. I literally don’t have a minute to spare for penmanship; therefore, I tell my students to write in whatever their neatest writing is. Today, I don’t care if assignments are in cursive, manuscript, or word-processed — I care whether or not I can read them!
I definitely print in manuscript much more often than I write in cursive because so many of my students — and their parents! — claim that they cannot read cursive. In that sense, cursive is definitely becoming a lost art. Only time will tell whether or not this “lost art” has a significant impact on education as a whole.
What are your experiences with cursive writing? Do you feel it should still be mandated in our schools? Why or why not? I look forward to reading your opinions!