Back when I was in grade school, students spent a great amount of time learning to write in “long hand,” or cursive. It was a required, preferred method of communication in school, yet now it has become more of a rare art form than a necessary skill. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) do not require the teaching of cursive, instead leaving its instruction as optional. However, whether schools should choose to teach cursive handwriting continues to be a prominent debate.
Technology has changed the way we communicate, making handwriting, especially cursive, a thing of the past. Lecture halls and business meetings are now full of laptops, tablets, and smartphones — not many people use pen and paper anymore. It’s fast and convenient for people to take notes digitally, and it eliminates the need to have to read others’ penmanship. Digital homework can also be easier to grade. Therefore, the question is whether it is necessary to teach cursive to students in order for them to be successful in the modern, technological world.
Some folks would say yes, teaching cursive handwriting is necessary. From a cognitive perspective, evidence suggests that learning cursive promotes brain development. According to a blog post by Dr. William R. Klemm for Psychology Today, learning cursive stimulates multiple sections of the brain that aren’t used when typing. In learning to write by hand, a child’s brain must:
- Locate each stroke relative to other strokes
- Learn and remember appropriate size, slant of global form, and feature detail characteristic of each letter
- Develop categorization skills
It appears that the same tasks do not activate as many areas of the brain when typing, which may be due to the amount of focus required to write versus type. Using pen and paper requires complete focus and attention on the tip of the pen where the writing occurs. Thoughts, actions, and sensations are all concentrated on the task of communicating through writing. The same is not necessarily true in typing when the person’s mind is constantly shifting from the keyboard to the screen and back again.
Another argument against the removal of cursive handwriting from curriculum is that if cursive vanishes, students won’t know how to sign their own names. Some schools that have discontinued the teaching of cursive continue to teach students their signatures, but it could be that marks and symbols will replace traditional autographs.
If cursive is indeed unnecessary for success in today’s technologically advanced world, perhaps it can be considered an art form akin to painting or sculpting — not everyone needs to learn it, but it could evoke emotion in others such as nostalgia or admiration. Regardless, it appears that those who wish to keep cursive handwriting alive may have to find another way outside of the classroom to pass the skill along to the next generation.
I’d like to give a special thanks to Kelly Larson (aka Word Girl) for her help with this post.
 Mehta, S. (2006, Jan. 30). Remember penmanship? That’s so 20th Century. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2006/jan/30/local/me-penmanship30
 Klemm, W.R. (2013, March 14). Why writing by hand could make you smarter. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/why-writing-hand-could-make-you-smarter
 Scheidell, D. (2013, Nov. 19). Is cursive writing still taught in Central New York Schools? CNYCentral.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnycentral.com/news/story.aspx?id=973635