On April 24, the Tennessee state legislature passed House Bill 1697, which requires public schools in that state to teach cursive. You read that right. At a time when most middle- and high-school students aspire to text faster, Tennessee has revived handwriting, loops and all.
Let’s hear it for the Volunteer State.
I don’t advocate a Stepford-like sameness in penmanship or script that leans exactly 10 degrees to the right. I do, however, believe cursive allows for greater speed of expression, which, in turn, may lead to better flow of thought.
Last year, I wrote a blog post about thedisappearance of cursive. It followed my reading of many student essays, some of which featured manuscript writing (printing) that seemed tortured. That post has had almost 2,000 hits. Clearly I’m not the only one who believes cursive teaches more than how to loop and swirl.
Better eye-hand coordination is one benefit of handwriting instruction. Another is the ability to read the Declaration of Independence as penned, manifests from ships that brought relatives to America, and letters from grandparents.
The most valuable benefit, however, is the link between handwriting and cognitive development. A recent New York Times article looks at the research:
“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain. And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”
Doesn’t the same kind of thing happen when we learn to play chopsticks, ride a bike, and swing a golf club?
An NPR segment on handwriting and brain activity corroborates the link between writing and cognitive ability, but the researchers interviewed found no difference between cursive and manuscript writing. That segment ended with a call for writing in schools, meaning more crafting of sentences, paragraphs, essays and papers and fewer multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank tests.
Cursive still has detractors. Here’s Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of Education at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education: “…teachers would be better off focusing on the skills and knowledge that will impact student success in the future. These include printing and typing, but not cursive. As we have done with the abacus and the slide rule, it is time to retire the teaching of cursive. The writing is on the wall.”
The next generation of Tennesseans will be able to print, type, and sign their names. They’ll learn to link their letters but, as this is the 21t century, they’ll be free to unlink them. They may take to oval o’s or reject them. What they'll do is develop individualistic handwriting that will serve them well.
Where do you stand on the cursive versus manuscript debate?
Do you think we should incorporate more writing into the school curriculum, for example one paragraph answers rather than one word answers on tests?