Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cursive Curses

          I guess you’ve heard the earth-shattering information: Kids who don’t learn cursive are cursed.  At least according to Maria Konnikova in the New York Times, who says, “Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how."
          Well, listen up, researchers: I went to laboratory school on a university campus umpty ump years ago, and they didn’t teach cursive!  This was one of the big experiments they chose to run, along with teaching us New Math and Spanish.  Did no one tabulate the results of this policy?  Are they just now guessing at what happens when kids don’t learn cursive?
           Someone should call all the alumni of my Edith Bowen Elementary School and see how they fared.  Today a psychologist from France, Stanislas Dehaene, says we missed adequate mental stimulation (which makes me want to shout, “This explains EVERYTHING!”)
          Apparently you need to do more than get words down on paper; they’ve done brain imaging that shows this cursed business—I mean, this cursive business-- helps your brain in ways that keyboarding does not: You have to pay attention and think about what you’re doing, plus use fine motor skills and then practice.  Or so says William Klemm, a neuroscientist at Texas A&M.
Experts also say today’s technology has wrecked the beautiful penmanship of yesteryear, and that teachers are now teaching to the test, instead of spending a few minutes on loops and ovals.  (Not everyone agrees--  Common Core folks see pen and paper as antiquated.)
And, needless to say, you should see my handwriting.  I did take a summer class in cursive at the local junior high when I was 10 or so, just to lock down that skill, but was I a few years too late?  Am I like those women whose feet were bound in China, only my brain was bound in the U.S.?
My mother grew up in South Carolina and learned The Palmer Method, and to her dying day had “a beautiful hand” when she wrote.  
My own writing is a schizophrenic-looking blend of manuscript and cursive, like those ransom notes from kidnappers that are cut and pasted from various fonts.  And goodness knows what’s going on up there in the Gray Matter Zone.
So I’m going to vote for keeping cursive in our schools.  Those who argue to do away with it say it’s less efficient, meaning it isn’t as fast as printing.  I’m sorry—is there a race I don’t know about?  Must we scribble down our reports faster than our brains can generate thought?  Maybe this is why spelling has taken a tumble, along with clear and coherent  sentences.  Maybe it would be good thing if we all just took a breath and slowed down.  And maybe put a little upswing on the tail of that T.
It's a good thing to listen to your mother, right?  So check out my Youtube Mom videos and, while I won't show you how to write in cursive, you'll learn wonderful life skills you can write home about.


  1. The closest that the NY TIMES article approached to giving an actual reason for cursive was in noting that some stroke survivors retain the ability to read cursive but lose the ability to read typefonts. Never mentioned: just as often, the ability to read cursive is lost, but the reading of type and/or print-writing is preserved.
    Other than that, every finding cited in favor of cursive is true of handwriting in general (if any form) and is not limited to cursive.
    (At least, that's what you'll find if you look up the actual research, instead of staying contented with newspaper summaries as Ms. Konnikova would doubtless prefer.)

    The NY TIMES science writer who was interviewed, Maria Konnikova, also ignored research that discomfits the cheerleaders for cursive. It turns out (sources below) that:
    • legible cursive writing averages no faster than print-writing of equal or greater legibility, [1]
    • cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or other language use of students who have dyslexia and/or dysgraphia, [2]
    • the fastest, clearest handwriters are neither the “print”-writers nor the cursive writers. Highest speed and legibility are attained by those who join only some letters, not all of them—making the simplest joins, omitting the rest, using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree. [3, 4]
    Similar problems pervade the PSYCHOILOGY TODAY piece by Dr. William Klemm (a veterinary neurologist at Texas A & M a University). Soon after the magazine ran his article, commenters in the thread below it started looking up for themselves the research he'd cited — and found out that literally everything that the article gave as proof of cursive had been ganged from the original research, so as to misrepresent that research and make it seem to favor cursive over any of the other ways of writing by hand. (Fir instance, the strongest study that Klemm presented as support for cursive turned out not even to be about cursive: it had been an Indiana University study of printing versus keyboarding in kindergarteners. Klemm, summarizing that study, had xhangsd rge word "keyboarding" to the word "cursive" and omitted all mention of kindergarten.)

    Why — here as elsewhere throughout the media’s and legislatures’ discussions of handwriting — do studies which are headlined as supporting cursive actually say something different when one finds and reads the originals? Why do the write-ups so one-sidedly ignore whatever research on handwriting is not so easily obscured?

    [1] Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
    Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED056015
    [2] “Does cursive handwriting have an impact on the reading and spelling performance of children with dyslexic dysgraphia: A quasi-experimental study.” Authors: Lorene Ann Nalpon & Noel Kok Hwee Chia — URL: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/234451547_Does_cursive_handwriting_have_an_impact_on_the_reading_and_spelling_performance_of_children_with_dyslexic_dysgraphia_A_quasi-experimental_study
    [3] Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf
    [4] Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Yours for better letters, Kate Gladstone

    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest


    1. Thanks for all this great information, Kate!

  2. I use a combo of both print and cursive. Just like Kate said, connecting the easiest letters and omitting the more difficult connections, because the print and cursive letters do not agree. I feel I write quickly, but it's not always as pretty as I like.

  3. I think that's the way lots of us are going! Thanks for writing in, Jenifer!

  4. I did a term paper on this years ago - not only should we still be teaching cursive, but it should be taught FIRST - then manuscript. Sad state of affairs when you write something on the board as a teacher (or even in a church classroom) and students say they can't read it because you wrote in cursive. Sad. Sad. Sad. Just sayin'

    1. Excellent points, Stephanie! Can't believe kids can't even read it!

  5. The problem is that what we today call "Cursive" (actually Palmer-Method) is one of the worst forms of script writing ever invented. It has a nasty tendency to degenerate into that illegible scribble for hich doctors are so notorious (but unfortunately not alone), which has *caused thousands of deaths* from "medical error"; just ask any nurse or pharmacist. Other forms -- like Italic and Copperplate -- are much clearer, easier to learn, quicker to teach, and keep their legibility long after the student leaves school. So yes, by all means, teach penmanship in the schools -- but for heaven's sake, choose a better method! If only for all the lives it has cost us, "Cursive" deserves to die.

  6. Wow, Leslie-- had no idea there were so many options! Although I think any of them become illegible when we get sloppy or hurry too fast. You make a good argument! Thanks for reading. :)