I just came across a piece entitled Ten Reasons People Still Need Cursive by Jennifer Doverspike, in the Federalist. The piece is obviously on the importance of teaching cursive. As one who found its imposition on me as an elementary student to get in my way, rather than help me (and in fact, my teachers in middle school were glad when I quit using it, since they found it difficult to read my cursive), I decided to critique the 10 claims.
- Cursive Helps People Integrate Knowledge
So do lots of other things at least as well, such as the arts, theater, physical education, all of which there is way too little of in most public schools. These others sound like better and more interesting ways to integrate knowledge to me. And print is just as tactile as cursive, so would it not do this integration just as well?
- Writing Long-form Teaches Us How to Write
The author cites a correlation between the good writing and good handwriting in children. However, it may be that those that have good handwriting as children do so simply because they have matured earlier, both physically and mentally—so do not confuse correlation with causation. I would have to see evidence of such a correlation in adults to give it any credit. If you want fast, then learn to type—that is what I did, since I have atrocious handwriting.
- Our Hands Should Be Multilingual
“Should be?” Well, there are lots and lots of things maybe we should be—like be multilingual. Is its more important than all the other things that time could be spent on. Remember, time is school is an extremely limited resource. I do not see a reason to force this one particular “should” over all the others I can think of that we do not find time for in school.
- We Learn Better When We Write It Down
We can write it down without knowing cursive. In argument 2, they focus on the need for speed in writing, yet in this argument they argue slow is better. Well then go to print. And what the author is referring to writing down is lecture notes. Children rarely do have to do this, and a better way to learn is to be actively doing something rather than listening to lectures anyway.
- Handwriting Leads to Cognitive Development, Self-Esteem, and Academic Success
It may only do so because we give it that importance. And in fact, since good handwriting is easier for some, requiring it actually gives an academic advantage to those who have better dexterity, but may not be any smarter. Again from the research cited, they may very well be confusing correlation with causation, or even reversing the cause-effect relationship.
- It May Help Those With Special Needs
And it may hurt them too. That it “may” is not a reason to impose it on all. For many using a keyboard opens up a world denied to them, especially students with physical impairments which make handwriting more difficult. If it helps a particular student, great, but this is a sweeping generalization.
- It Reduces Distractions and Inspires Creativity
Maybe it does for some, and for others it becomes another burden—I know that when I started typing (in middle school) and then using a computer (in college), it was way less frustrating for me, and in each case I felt more creative, not less. I do not think I am all that unique in that way.
- It Keeps Our Brains Active in Old Age
There are millions of ways to keep one’s brain active in old age. It does not happen to be the one I would choose. If you like it great—but do not impose it on me.
- We Need to Be Able to Read Cursive
Actually, I have found extremely few times in my adult life when I need to read cursive—and the claim you need to be able to write it to read it is just plain false. If and when such a time comes up, one can learn it. There is no critical age for learning to read or write cursive. Learning to read it can be done in a tiny fraction of the time needed to learn to write it. To force all to learn to write cursive for the few that might find it necessary seems wasteful and arbitrary.
- We Can Create Something Beautiful and Unique.
Again, there are millions of way to create unique and beautiful things. To impose this one way is arbitrary. I would hate it to be imposed on me.
My main argument is not that cursive is bad—but it is no longer necessary in modern society. I could make 10 easily as justifiable arguments for learning to ride a horse , but we do not require horse back riding or many other wonderful things that can integrate our brains and help us be creative. All of the arguments relate to why it may be worth doing, but do not justify it as a requirement, especially given the limited time that schools have with children.
As a teacher I happened to have liked teaching cursive—but that was because I could keep the kids busy and quiet at the end of a long day in a mindless activity that as third graders they saw as important. Learning cursive was, and may still be a sort of right-of-passage. That is the best argument I can come up with to teach it.