Monday, July 29, 2013

In Defense of Cursive Writing

by Julia Buckley

Cursive writing was once a given in school curriculums; a student learned printing, and then she graduated up to cursive (in my case, around the fourth grade).  Cursive, when I was young, was seen as sophisticated: the "adult" writing to which most young people aspired.  Little children would judge the maturity of an older child by determining whether or not he or she could write in cursive.

But the value of cursive writing goes well beyond its seeming sophistication. Cursive writing IS more complex than printed writing, which is perhaps why signatures have to be written in cursive.  Historical documents (including family letters) are written in cursive--perhaps most famously the one above. And yet, many school curriculums are dropping cursive writing, viewing it as an antediluvian skill that will have no place in the modern world of computers. The focus now is on keyboarding, reflecting, I think, the general short-sightedness of people in the computer-enhanced world.

According to an article William Klemm wrote for Psychology Today, Klemm says that scientists are learning that cursive writing is important for cognitive development. According to Klemm's research, when students write in cursive, "there is spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. Students have to pay attention and think about what and how they are doing it . . . brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding."

In fact, Klemm later reveals that cursive has a similar effect on the brain as does learning to play a musical instrument. In a science called "haptics," which includes the interactions of touch, hand movement, and brain function, it is clear that cursive helps a child with key skills including visual, tacticle, and motor dexterity (Klemm).

I could not agree with Klemm more when he concludes that "school systems, driven by ill-informed ideologues and federal mandate, are becoming obsessed with testing knowledge at the expense of training kids to develop better capacity for acquiring knowledge."

Cursive is not an outdated skill.  Some forms of learning should be left alone in the great sweep toward modernization, especially when those techniques have clear and lasting effects on growth and ability.

Has a child in your family already entered the non-cursive generation?  What are your thoughts about it?


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

My son, who just turned 43, never learned cursive at the "progressive" Bank Street School (the lab school of the famed College of Education). I wasn't happy about it, and I had no say in the matter, but he thinks pretty well.

Julia Buckley said...

So how does he sign his name? Does he ever run into problems when he has to read the cursive of someone else?

Sandra Parshall said...

I hate that schools have stopped teaching cursive! What a boneheaded move.

KateGladstone said...

Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources below.)

Reading cursive matters, but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. Why not teach children to read cursive, along with teaching other vital skills, including a handwriting style typical of effective handwriters?

Adults increasingly abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it?

Cursive's cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you smarter, makes you graceful, adds brain cells, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

So far — in this article, and elsewhere — whenever a supporter of cursive (such as Dr. William Klemm) has invoked the might of research, one or more of the following things has become evident when others examine the claimed support:

/1/ either the claim (of research support for cursive) provides no traceable source,


/2/ if a source is cited, it is misquoted or is incorrectly described (e.g., an Indiana University research study comparing print-writing with keyboarding is usually misrepresented by cursive's defenders as a study "comparing print-writing with cursive"),


/3/ the claimant _correctly_ quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.

What about signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student produced it.

Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.


Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

/1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May - June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at

/2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September - October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at

Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at
Background on our handwriting, past and present:



[AUTHOR BIO: Kate Gladstone is the founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works and the director of the World Handwriting Contest]

Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone
Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
and the World Handwriting Contest

Sheila Lowe said...

I'd like to invite you to visit and see some of the research, which gives reasons why cursive training IS important, contrary to ms. Gladstone's insistence. She admits that she is not a trained handwriting expert.

LD Masterson said...

Well, I can't stand up to Ms. Gladstone but I'll admit I was very disappointed when my grandson's school dropped cursive. It seems like another skill lost in favor of electronics.

Julia Buckley said...

Wow! Quite a response. As a teacher, I still see value in cursive writing for a variety of reasons, some of which I mentioned in the article.

Kate Gladstone, you make some interesting (and myriad) points that I will have to pursue further, including the links provided.

Sheila, I am already familiar with your work as a handwriting expert, and from your perspective I can understand why cursive is particularly important as a way of determining key personality traits.

LD, I do feel that in the rush to embrace all that is computerized (and I love my computery toys as much as the next person) we might often throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Leslie Fish said...

Excuse me, but Ms. Gladstone IS a handwriting expert. She makes her living teaching people who have grown up with Cursive how to write *legibly* -- even doctors. Having given up on Cursive myself, in favor of a form of Italic, I really do think she knows what she's talking about.

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish

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