ANALYSIS: Why learning cursive is vital to students' education
In 2010, many states removed cursive writing instruction from their education curriculum. By 2014, scholars were concerned that the move hindered college students' academic abilities.
To know cursive is to live as a “historical artifact,” Drew Gilpin Faust, a contributing writer at The Atlantic, a historian, and former president of Harvard University observed recently in an NPR interview.
In 2010, many states removed cursive writing instruction from their education curriculum. With the advent of digital programs such as Word, learning cursive writing seemed arbitrary and outdated, according to the logic.
But as early as 2014, warnings that removing cursive instruction hindered college students’ reading ability had hit the headlines of academic journals.
“[W]e have begun to see the ramifications of this shift and its effect on the research skills of college students,” Valerie Hotchkiss former Director of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library and Professor Medieval Studies and Library Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign declared in a now near decade-old article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Hotchkiss documents an interaction she had with an undergraduate during her time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
Recently, an undergraduate asked me for help with a manuscript she was studying. I assumed it was something along the lines of a medieval Latin text or perhaps even a particularly difficult Marcel Proust letter (our library holds the largest collection of Proust letters in the world), but when I bent over the letter to help, I saw that it was in English and in the very neat, clear hand of John Ruskin. ‘What’s the problem?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I don’t do cursive,’ answered the undergraduate.
The warning, however, went unheard. Only 21 states retained cursive writing instruction.
Proponents of keeping cursive instruction have been called melodramatic as they often cite that students will not be able to read the U.S. Constitution or other national documents.
In 2021, Reuters’ fact checkers published an article entitled “Fact Check-Schools have not stopped teaching cursive writing to keep children from reading the U.S. Constitution,” which explained that the primary motive to remove cursive instruction from the curriculum was to keep pace with technology, not to keep Americans from being able to read historical artifacts.
The Constitution, as ‘the fact checkers’ note, has been digitally transcripted into block letters and available to read on multiple websites and in books, hopefully dispelling that some states’ decisions to remove cursive did not have mischievous intentions.
Though not an intended consequence, it certainly was a consequence: students cannot read historical manuscripts.
“All of us, not just students and scholars, will be affected by cursive’s loss,” Faust argues in the interview. “We will become reliant on a small group of trained translators and experts to report what history—including the documents and papers of our own families—was about.”
The loss of cursive does not solely affect academics, however. Some college students cannot read letters from their own grandparents.
“One student reported that he had to ask his parents to ‘translate’ handwritten letters from his grandparents… For many young people, “handwriting,” once essentially synonymous with cursive, has come to mean the painstaking printing they turn to when necessity dictates,” Faust states.
Beyond these signs, scholarly research supports a curriculum that retains standards for learning hand-written, cursive writing.
A 2020 report in Frontiers in Psychology notes, “Cursive writing is a complex and central cultural skill… involving many brain systems and the integration of both motor and perceptual skills.”
Writing by hand, especially in cursive, enables students to have sharper critical thinking skills, whereas using keyboards has proven to be a distraction.
The 29 states that have no cursive writing requirement should heed the warnings of academics and follow the science.
Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.