Should Students Still Be Taught Cursive Writing?

Karen Green discusses the importance of putting pen to paper, even in a digital world

Photography by spiritinme via Flickr (CC)

According to my husband’s National Geographic magazine—and probably most schoolchildren—cursive writing is going the way of the Dodo.

In the blurb I read, it stated that cursive writing is not only not being taught to recent generations of students, but also that teachers do not even feel adequately prepared to teach cursive writing anymore. Apparently, it is a 19th century skill in a 21st century world.

I weep.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not a total Luddite and I don’t expect students to forgo the awesome convenience and practicality that is a computer keyboard. It’s just that, in matters of grammar and writing, I am a bit of a purist. I like things like the Oxford comma and the ability to spell correctly without spellcheck. I like proper punctuation and personal correspondence, and I think that there is beauty in a handwritten note. Handwritten—as in, the pen swoops and dips and for better or for worse, personifies the author. Handwriting analysis is fascinating. Font analysis is really not necessary, unless one chooses to write in Comic Sans.

Of course, I am forced to wonder if learning cursive writing in a time when almost all non-electronic communication is disappearing is a waste of time and resources, but there were lots of things I had to learn in school that never became a well-trod part of my daily life. I’m still better for knowing those things.

And I think kids—people—are better for knowing how to write. I don’t want cursive writing to be relegated to the signature at the bottom of the page. I hate to think of cursive writing as a pair of conservative, ultimately uncomfortable shoes, brought out only for the odd, stifling afternoon in church. To me, cursive writing is a pair of comfy sandals that have been worn in until they are perfect, and everybody recognizes them and knows that they’re yours. And they go with everything.

Truthfully, my days of writing long-hand in a notebook are gone, but when I need it, cursive writing is there. Writing end-of-year notes to my children’s teachers in all-cap block letters just doesn’t seem like it would have relayed the same appreciation and thoughtfulness that my handwritten (yes, cursive) notes did.

And I cannot imagine a love letter ever not being written in cursive. I want my girls to receive one of those letters one day, and I want her to put that letter in a box under her bed and eventually show it to her own children, who will hopefully still know how to read it. Because there’s something to be said for putting a little bit of effort into communicating, and it’s hard to store a text message in a box under the bed.

What do you think? Should students still learn cursive writing?

Karen Green recently traded life in the biggest city in Canada for life in the biggest cornfield in Canada. Freed from her full-time job as a writer and editor, Karen now spends her time…writing and editing. And frolicking in the leaves with her two small girls. Karen is a speaker, the founder of Mom The Vote and the author of the blog, The Kids Are Alright, where she has been writing about the humorous and poignant moments of family life since 2005. She is thrilled to be a part of canadianfamily.ca.

17 responses to “Should Students Still Be Taught Cursive Writing?”

  1. Karen, I agree completely. I remember sitting in my seat in our grade 2/3 split class, watching the older students learn cursive. It was all so deliciously “grown-up” and I would secretly practice myself in my math ditto sheet margins.

    The fact that my son (age 8) may never learn to properly craft his beautiful name in script, is heart-breaking to me. I also think about the disconnect it causes with our generation and theirs. My parents and I still have arguments over whether it is 98 degrees or 33 degrees, as the introductrion of metric when I was a child has left us quite broken. ;)

  2. I agree – learning to write cursive gave me no end of pride, and made me feel very mature. What does that for students today – being the first one to the smart board? And Jeni, the metric/imperial argument rears its ugly head in our family, too.

  3. Sandra says:

    I do lament the loss of this skill and even more, the loss of recognition of its importance. Coincidentally, Gabrielle Blair of DesignMom touched on this in a post this week. She and her family are living in France and in a post about her six children’s experience in a French school she started off by noting the emphasis on writing with pens in cursive. No pencils. No printing. The post is here: http://www.designmom.com/2012/06/school-update/

    I just feel that we are chipping away at anything and everything that is beautiful in its own right. Anything that requires skill and patience and practice to learn. All for the sake of some deluded idea that we will instead be more computer literate and marketable and competitive.

    I look fondly back on the days when middle class and working class people regularly went to the theatre and the symphony and the art galleries and everyone knew how to write cursive. Like you, I am far from a Luddite but I certainly think that it is a huge mistake to take the path of least resistance.

  4. Marla says:

    Remember Andrea’s excellent post about this subject?

    http://www.quietfish.com/notebook/?p=2123

    This week I am putting together the Grade 6 yearbook. The answers to all of their school memories questions are printed, sometimes double-spaced – it looks the the fourth-grade work of my youth (I kept samples). I weep for them – they can’t write as fast as they think, and it must be frustrating. Fluidity is important to expressing thoughts, and they’re not even learning to keyboard properly either.

    Talking to an old-school elementary teacher on the playground today, she told me that part of learning is muscle memory, and if they’re not doing writing and spelling drills, it’s not there in their hands if their heads get stuck. Kids need writing, lots and lots of it.

  5. Lindsay says:

    My children attend a Montessori school where cursive is still very important. My son who is just finishing grade 2 thinks it is horrible and wrong that cursive isn’t taught in the public school. Even my daughter who is 2nd year Casa (JK) is learning cursive. She takes such pride in practicing writing her name daily at both school and home.

    My kids know that once they transition to a regular school they might not continue with cursive but they can continue at home and I will encourage it. Maybe I am old school but how will these kids ever sign their name on the back of a credit card. Will signatures be obsolete? Will you see printed names on legal documents?

  6. Jen says:

    I agree that cursive writing is an important skill that our children need to be taught. My daughter is in grade 3 and she has thoroughly enjoyed learning cursive writing this year. Now all the birthday cards she writes have her beautiful loopy letters. She beamed with pride when she first learned how to write her own name in cursive.

  7. Mary says:

    I agree cursive writing is an important skill.
    It is even more helpful for children learning difficulties.
    It is a skill that also helps them read better…
    I might be old school but I will continue to teach my grade 3 students!

  8. Kathy says:

    I was very dismayed when I read that same page in National Geographic that said that cursive writing is on the way out in the States. I then checked up on the internet to see if the same thing is happening in Canada, and was relieved to see that it is still being taught to our eight year oldd. There will always be children to whom cursive writing is a challenge; my older sister Barb and my childhood best friend Ingrid both did and found a way to mix regular printing and some cursive writing into a style that they were comfortable with. But to not let it become a thing of the past in our schools. I loved learning cursive writing and still am proud at being able to remember how to write capital Qs and Zs, something that other people I have talked to say they have forgotten because they are not letters that they have used frequently enough over the last 40 years to remember. What they do in the States isn’t always right, and this is another very good example.

  9. Kirsten Anne Killen says:

    i agree cursive still has a place in the school systems today but i faced backlash at my son’s elementary school last year. he is left handed and his printing is soo bad i swear when he’s older he’d make one hell of a dr. i started teaching him cursive at home on my time in the evenings and his handwritting is beautiful, i sent the resource teacher at his school the sheets he had done asking if he could do his assignments in cursive she wrote back saying there was not point and my son’s self eesteem took a massive hit. it’s like some teachers dont actually want to teach their students anything. i hope when my youngest son who is isnt due until nov starts school i will be able to show him the so called dying art form. This situation drives me bonkers.

  10. When I was in elementary school (early 70’s), my writing was so bad my mom used to make me do pages of cursive “L” all uniform – same size and width. This is what she had to do in school, in the 40’s, having good hand writing used to matter. Today, I work in digital publishing and almost everything I do is through keyboarding either on computer, tablet or mobile device. When I do have occasion to write, I print (my printing is eccentric and graphic), I get a lot of compliments on it. I have three kids, each of them submit all assignments “typed double spaced”. I would rather see them with better developed keyboarding skills, but even that will go the way of the DODO with the growth of voice activated devices. Teach the kids the skills they need to work in the future, not what was historically relevant. (I spelled historically wrong there, but my computer auto corrected).

  11. Bev Ascah says:

    Kirsten – stand your grounds and continue to teach your child cursive. I am a teacher of over thirty years and completely support cursive writing. I have actually left the public school system, because I have had it with the Ontario ministry of education and their good feel attitude and lets us use technology all the time because it is easier.

  12. devorah says:

    I AM SHOCKED.. just learned that cursive is out! I write and think faster with cursive. Oh,well… signing off HaHa….

  13. ELBK says:

    I am weeping with you, Karen. Watch, they’ll rethink this sometime in the future, and it will be a required course in highschool for the students who missed it in elementary school.

  14. pdcy says:

    Well, obviously schools and families now are suddenly flush with cash to fully digitalize classrooms (computers, peripherals, IT support, electricity costs), so that they will never need to learn to write quickly. No more struggling to copy notes quickly off the blackboard and no need to learn cursive to write quickly for exams because only computers will used. Of course, all students would also need to be able to do their homework on their own computers at home. And we all know that power outages and computer crashes and viruses will become a thing of the past. Right?

    One may not need to learn to write cursive as a child if one knows later that they will never, ever have to write three-hour essay-type exams in university.

  15. All4U says:

    I totally agree. I was helping out in my child’s grade three class while they were learning cursive about 10 years ago when a child asked her how to write the cursive Q – she replied “Oh I just do the printed one”. I was blown away.

  16. Eva Tasillo says:

    I am on year 5 homeschooling my kids and cursive writing is part of my curriculum for them. I was and am not impressed with all the cuts the school system has done. Glad my kids are out

  17. BobRodkin says:

    I’d recently read something that all too casually mentioned cursive not being taught in schools anymore. What an absurd notion and so I dismissed the idea entirely…until I noticed it mentioned by an even more reputable source. So I googled it to find not the worst, perhaps, but even so a bad situation brewing. I cannot agree with you more Karen. The loss of cursive would be a sad blow on many levels, not the least being the romance between the spoken and written word.

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