Cursive handwriting is dying. But some politicians refuse to accept it.
So in the past few years, we’ve seen state
legislatures introduce bills that basically require that students have
to learn cursive writing in elementary school. Cursive handwriting is not in the Common Core
state standards which have replaced the English and Language
Arts standards in 43 states. And so this is led to a concern that if it’s
not on the test, if students can type their assignments or
print their assignments, cursive handwriting is just going to disappear
and die out. But the truth is, cursive was really fading
out before the Common Core. In 2006, the SAT started to require an essay
— and this is how we have data on what students chose to write.
And only 15% of students used cursive, this was kids who were in elementary school in
the 90s. Cursive handwriting became taught more
commonly at the same time that education become more democratic.
So it started with something called the Spencerian script.
If you’ve seen a college diploma, if you’ve seen a wedding invitation with that really
loopy, fancy writing, that’s what the Spencerian script was. It’s beautiful.
But obviously it’s not very practical to learn to write this really gorgeous, loopy
handwriting. And so in the 1920s, which was when education
was becoming much more universal, not just at the elementary level but continuing on
past that, that’s also when they developed a new method
of writing cursive. It’s called the Palmer Method. Certainly
if you have a grandparent with beautiful handwriting, they’re probably writing the Palmer method.
And there were two major cursive styles that were taught from the 1960s on: The D’Nealian
method, and the Zane-Bloser method. This is a big debate. Is there a reason to
learn cursive, besides sort of a nostalgic idea that this is an important skill that
you have as an adult? The arguments in favor are that it’s a fine
motor skill thing, it’s good for kids to have learn to use their hands this way.
And there’s also this sort of patriotic argument that the Constitution and the Declaration
of Independence are written in cursive, and what if kids can’t read these founding documents
in the original print. The arguments against teaching cursive are
mostly that nobody has shown that there’s really a major benefit to learning cursive.
So it’s a lot of time and energy spent in the third and 4th grade, learning basically
a second system of writing after you’ve already learned to write.