Is the Handwriting on the Wall for Cursive?
A few weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I wore jeans to a Broadway matinee. Much has changed since my youth, when an excursion to a theatrical event of New York City proportions demanded a party dress, patent leather shoes, and white gloves. Even as I conform to the improprieties of the 21st century, I bemoan the demise of some of yesteryear’s formalities. And now, it seems cursive handwriting may go the way of my white gloves. This is a development I simply cannot bear.
Forty-one states have so far adopted the new Common Core State Standards for English, which do not require cursive. Set by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and The National Governors Association (NGA), the standards provide a general framework for what students are expected to learn before college.
It has happened. The keyboard has become king.
The argument against cursive is that teaching handwriting is time consuming and that cursive is not as useful today as keyboard agility. Kathleen Wright, a national project manager for Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of educational writing materials, says that cursive is not assessed on the tests that rate schools under the No Child Left Behind Law. If it is not assessed, teachers won’t teach it because they are teaching to the test. Thank you George Bush.
I remember my handwriting workbook. It was muddy pink. The words on those pages were fragrant. I would spend hours copying sentences, trying to match the loops and curves of the graceful sentences written in script. I’m sure the practice improved my fine motor skills, not to mention my patience. And science seems to back me up.
Anne Mangenat, associate professor at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Center says, “Based on empirical evidence from neuroscience, handwriting seems to play a larger role in the visual recognition and learning of letters than does keyboard training. This is something one should be aware of in an educational context.”
Mangenat cites an experiment conducted on two sets of adults in which each group was taught a foreign alphabet. One group learned the characters through copying them by hand. The other group learned to recognize them on a screen and with a keyboard. Weeks after the experiment, the groups that learned the letters by hand consistently scored higher on recognition tests than those who learned with a keyboard. Brain scans of the hands-on group also showed greater brain activity in the part of the brain that controls language comprehension, motor-related processes and speech-associated gestures.
My argument is more personal. There is nothing as intimate as a handwritten love letter. Nothing expresses appreciation better than a handwritten thank-you note. Handwritten birthday wishes or invitations or thank-you cards tell us we are important to someone. We are worthy of someone’s time and effort.
I want my grandchildren to know how to write. If I say, “Put your John Hancock right there,” I want them to know what that means. I want them to appreciate the majesty of the handwritten word.
There is hope. California, perhaps our hippest state, the state where informality resides, recently re-included cursive into the curriculum. OMG.
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