I pride myself on looking to the future and being open to new ideas and change. I never want to be the guy grousing about how it was better “back in the day.” But every now and then I cock my head in puzzlement at a new trend.
That’s my reaction to word that many schools no longer teach cursive writing. And new research indicates my skepticism may be well founded, according to a piece in The New York Times.
According to the education experts who advocate dumping cursive, kids don’t need that skill in this digital age because they now do most of their “writing” on keyboards. The time spent teaching cursive is better spent, they say, on other lessons.
That never sat right with me. It seems like an excessive concession to digital technology, like saying kids don’t need to learn map-reading because we have GPS. Not knowing cursive makes one a bit less literate, unable to read the Declaration of Independence in its original form, or decipher a letter from a grandparent or ancestor.
And, if you don’t know cursive… how do you sign your name?
More importantly, there is mounting evidence that all handwriting, both printing and cursive, helps kids develop numerous brain skills, including reading. Writing is more than a motor skill; it activates cognitive functions, including those related to writing and planning. Actually, forming letters on the page engages students’ minds and makes them pay attention to written language. This can make them better readers and writers. In one noteworthy study, low-income kids who developed fine-motor writing skills in pre-kindergarten did better later in school.
“Mastering handwriting, messy letters and all, is a way of making written language your own, in some profound ways,” says pediatrician Perri Klass in the Times piece.
And, don’t you find that writing down something helps you remember it? That’s science, not your imagination. Studies of college students’ note-taking habits indicate that those who hand-wrote their notes retained more material than those who took notes on a laptop.
The experts are still trying to determine whether cursive brings specific benefits, beyond those gained from printing. One study suggests that learning cursive starting in fourth grade helps with both spelling and composition, maybe because the connection between the written letters helps kids see how words come together.
Despite this data, I somehow doubt the education establishment will change course. I suspect our kids will do less and less actually writing over time. That doesn’t mean our kids should be deprived of the benefits of good handwriting. I know a few parents who have already taken it upon themselves to teach their kids cursive. Others have enrolled their younger kids in classes to improve their printing.
Kudos to those moms and dads!