Cursive: Is it really that important?

thick pencil lettering

NPR recently did a report about the value of cursive in child’s brain development. By their best calculations, all fine motor skill activities are valuable to brain development, be it printing, cursive or keyboarding. But the best option is for kids to be doing all sorts of fine motor activities.

This story, however,  does not address the issue of legibility, speed of writing or not writing like a 6-year-old when you’re forty.



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  1. I guess I am part of a generation that will soon be gone, but cursive writing was part of my school curriculum every day for 5 years. It was emphasized that handwriting, legible handwriting, had other intrinsic meanings besides being a way to communicate. It indicated that you were educated, and that you had the ability to express ideas and feelings not only with your words, but with the expressiveness of your unique writing style. Looking at a letter handwritten in cursive, I knew immediately whose hand had written it. By examining the letter more closely I could tell whether it was written at leisure, in a hurry, contained the mundane or the tragic, just by how the letters and words were formed. What a horrible loss to the human race if we lose this ability in our communications. We will have no real legacy to pass on to future generations other than staid, typed letter forms that say nothing about our uniqueness as people.
    The reality of this inability to not only write in cursive but to read it, struck me when the young woman on the witness stand in court looked at a note, written in cursive, and admitted that she could not read it, as if it were in a foreign language. How sad.

  2. I write in cursive whenever I need to write something quickly, and it’s my preferred method of handwriting. That said, when it needs to be read by someone else I only ever print, because I know my cursive is not the most legible, and I have difficulty slowing down enough to make it so.

  3. Cursive is also my preferred method of handwriting. I find all forms of handwriting important in brain development, as well as, a growth of imagination and identity.

  4. As a volunteer in our local elementary school I developed several contests to get the children excited in a classroom environment. In one, I believe fourth grade class I asked the students to write their answers in cursive. Even the printed answers were almost illegible. This is in a well run school that emphasizes computer skills. We are raising a generation that will have limited small motor skills, which translates to a lack of skilled craftspeople. How will we “build” a nation with people who have pathetic eye hand co-ordination? Simply put we are eliminating one of the needed educational building blocks.

  5. I resent the idea that only six-year-olds print. Designers and engineers print, because cursive looks just as silly to us as printing looks to you. There are entire classes on how to print well.

    1. I did not mean to suggest that all printing looks like 6-year-old penmanship. Architects are taught a beautiful hand. I simply meant that if schools stop teaching penmanship at the stage students would learn cursive and then go to typing only, all penmanship will suffer.

  6. I would bet other nations are not considering this,but I don’t know for sure. Who is deciding this? I think cursive should be taught, we were taught how though the beauty in it was not worried about. My own is not that great, even when I try to write slower, my brain speed almost always takes over. Are parents saying this is OK to teachers & administrators? I have no children so I am off the grid on this one.

    1. In the dozen or so articles that I have read there are a few parents who have lodged protests with local and even their state school boards. A few more have made the decision to teach their children the skill themselves. However, the majority of the parents who are in their twenties and maybe early thirties, either are not aware, are aware and don’t care (they were taught that keyboarding was replacing writing regardless) or are aware it is displaced from the core curriculum but do not realize they have a voice in these decisions. Between the lack of handwriting skills, no ability to spell, and maybe worse yet, using text syntax in formal documents and letters, I am afraid our language, both verbal and written, is disappearing.

    2. As a child in the UK in the fifties I was first taught to print. Ant attempt to speed up the writing by joining letters was punished by having to rewrite the whole thing. The next phase was joined up writing. Now any breaks between letters were punished even when the ligatures were unnatural. There were no special cursive letters. At 11 I went to grammar school and handwriting lessons ended. Bad spelling lost marks in whatever subject and teachers assumed illegible meant misspelled. My handwriting then was joined up with unjoined letters when it was uncomfortable to join them. It’s now called modern cursive and it’s what most kids in this country learn as “handwriting”. The problem you seem to be having in the US is that “cursive” has come to mean a special handwriting not as was originally intended a way of making ordinary writing flow (cursive) so that it is possible to write quickly and legibly. Early discipline was meant to forge that habit so that joined letters didn’t degenerate into a wiggly line. I have a feeling that keyboarding won’t last. It will give way to voice recognition software and future generations will be readers without learning to write at all.

    3. Yes, other nations are absolutely considering this. Canada is replacing cursive the same way the US is, and I’m sure many other countries are as well.

      What people fail to see with their condescending attitude toward the younger generation, is that computer skills are FAR more important than nice handwriting is for their generation. Even for those of us old enough to write in cursive, it is not imperative. For someone going into the job market 15 years from now (even today, really) if you are not completely computer literate, you are not going to get a job. Period. How much handwriting do you think will be necessary in 15 years?

      I wish they would make room for cursive in the curriculum, but if it is important to parents they can easily teach their children at home.

  7. I don’t need to buy into the neurological arguments for continuing cursive in schools. I don’t need a scientific study to sway my mind when it comes to this. I see cursive handwriting as a traditional part of education that should not even require defense. It certainly has seen much less use in lots of kids everyday life, but I would like to see it continued to be taught merely for tradition’s sake. I’m good with that.

    1. So with limited time each day and competing priorities, we should teach something for the sake of tradition? I want my child to gain skills that are usable in the real world.

      1. There are many things that are taught for the sake of tradition, and many come to mind- math for instance. Is there really any reason to learn how to add, subtract, multiply or divide when we have devices that can do all of that and more? Is the ability to do math in your head a “real life skill”? I don’t think that there has been deep thinking involved in the ramifications of your children and my grandchildren not learning to use and read handwriting. Take a look around the next time you attend a meeting, whether at work, church or the community and see how many have come prepared to take notes. If they have, what are they carrying? A smart phone, laptop or tablet device? Or more likely, nothing at all, depending upon their “listening skills” to absorb and understand information and possible assignments. If they do take notes are they using cursive because it is faster and they can capture more information, or printing, because that’s all they know how to use.
        If you don’t teach cursive writing how would you expect to read it? In “real life” family histories are recorded on paper and usually in cursive handwriting. If these things are not important to you or your children, then it won’t matter.
        You are absolutely correct in that there is limited time each day and priorities that someone else determines than to teach what many consider antiquated communication modes. However, leaving it to the schools to be the arbitrator of what is considered to be important to the individual is dangerous. My daughter, who is a single parent with limited time, is teaching my granddaughter cursive writing at home. Why? When she realized that 3 generations of her family had daily written journals of their lives (all written in cursive , by the way) it was important that her daughter would be able to read them and know about people she has never met but are part of her heritage. Reasons enough to just be a tradition, whether in school or athome.

  8. Beyond the fine motor skills and the generation that will need to pay a trained historian to read family documents, I feel that this is another example of gentility eroding. Sigh.

  9. The removal of Cursive Handwriting from the U.S. public school curriculum is being pursued with religious-like intensity. I do not understand why this is happening; but it is happening. Maybe it has something to do with separating our society into those who are young and ideologically indoctrinated, and those who are older and critocally independent.

  10. As much as I love and value longhand, if I am to be entirely objective, I have to say it isn’t that big a deal to me whether schools teach cursive. There are too many other things that need fixed first. In my job, I see a lot of college writing. It’s horrible. Too many college students write poorly. Perhaps this is more a regional problem. Either way, worrying about teaching kids cursive is like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

  11. I don’t think anyone is suggesting cursive will be required for future jobs. I think what many are concerned about, as am I, is that it can be a very personal and effective way of communicating or touching other people and we hate to see it go to such a minimal use in our culture. We will all do what we can or what we must. For me, at the next family holiday, I am going to discuss it with my 28, 24, and 14 year old nieces and exchange points of view. Interesting that I have been doing a handwritten journal for my 6 month old grandniece and not concerned that she will not be able to read it. Really do not think she will not know cursive. I really have appreciated the conversation here.

  12. My wife and I have had discussed this many times now that our two sons are coming up to the age where we once learned to write in cursive. We are both very discouraged by the fact that penmanship is not being taught. The focus the school takes is to do well on assessment tests, period. The entire curriculum is focused on these assessments. Our eldest was taught sight words from K-1st grades, now in the second grade the school has gone back to phonics. We had been teaching phonics at home and so he was familiar with the subject and has had no problems but, some of his peers struggle. The schools are more worried about status. The individual is not a thought, it is the reputation. Not much different than the Romans before the Empire fell…though I’m sure neither of my children will be taught the Roman Empire in any detail, just as they won’t learn to write in cursive…unless they learn at home.

  13. For anyone who went to elementary school in the 21st century you’ll realize this is a moot point. Counting myself among that generation, I can tell you that I was taught cursive (at a good school) but no one cared about it. Think about how many young people care about fountain pens. This generation (and previous one if you think about it) have moved on.

    I have to be honest, I don’t think that’s the end of the world. Frankly, 95% of the time, the cursive I encounter, written by people much more versed and practiced in its use than myself, is near illegible. As far as not developing penmanship or fine motor skill, that’s a load of baloney. I thoroughly enjoy reading a well printed page and learn just as much about an individuals style. If you think that learning cursive is essential to kids developing fine motor skills… well, you can have that opinion if you want but it’s baseless and wrong. There are still young people learning and working in all the trades of the past, who would laugh at the idea that their ignorance of cursive was a detriment to their performance.

    I think a more interesting question would be, why spend time on cursive? Is learning cursive more useful than learning about other topics? I think we’d definitely see a greater benefit to devoting a few hours a week to current events, science (Cosmos anyone?), or anything else over a defunct writing style that no longer has a practical relevance.

    Hopefully this is taken as an opinion, by one person, with the intention of adding to the conversation.

    1. I love all the conversation this article has created and I appreciate your addition to the conversation.

      I love how script writing connects me to the past. I also think learning to make lots of different letterforms, be they print or script can be a gateway for other creative activities from poetry to painting.

      But, I also see that it is much more important to teach children to think, engage them in learning about the world and so many other topics.

      I think it would be interesting to ask children if they want to learn to write in cursive. Could it be an after-school activity if it appeals to them?

  14. My question is how will we sign our signature on important documents with out the skill of cursive? Although most things are on computers now there are still instances where we need to write our signature. And then how will we distinguish between people’s handwriting for purposes of fraud without the originality of cursive? I am young and have always been taught computer skills, but I still see that cursive skill to know. I decided to teach my daughter on my own.

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