The World Of Cursive

During the PSAT this year, all students were required to copy a statement on appropriate test-taking behavior in cursive and then sign their name. While I was sitting in that room, complaints and whines rang out as almost every student taking the test had difficulty at least one letter, if not all of them. “It was insane how many kids didn’t know how to write a simple capital letter ‘I’. It probably took three times as long to write out the sentences given, and as funny and entertaining as it was, it got a little depressing.” says Monika Ford, a junior who took the PSAT this fall.

Over the years the value of cursive has diminished. In modern society, cursive has no place as the average writer prefers the simplified scrawl of print over the looping swirls of cursive. But the larger question that emerges is why the importance and the use of cursive have diminished so rapidly over the years.

The answer lies in the way that cursive has been taught. Traditionally cursive is taught for two to three weeks in the third grade. The problem that has arisen lies with the teachers, as they prefer to spend time teaching other subjects, such as science and history, over writing. In addition, elementary school-children barely have the patience to sit down and practice, and cursive requires practice.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, why does this matter? What differences does it make if I write in cursive or print? The answer is that writing in cursive enhances spelling ability and improves eye-hand coordination. Cursive also promotes efficient reading as readers must read whole words over single letters. Cursive also helps in putting thoughts on paper efficiently, as writers don’t need to lift their pencils off the paper as often. Those who are left-handed may also find writing in cursive easier with the way that paper is usually positioned when writing in cursive. Lastly, cursive reduces the probability of reversing and misplacing letters such as ‘b’ and ‘d’. In cursive, these letters are a lot more different than in print, which reduces possibility of error. Written by Sadhana Pittala

One comment

  1. A lot of people, lately, have been making a lot of noise about the death of cursive handwriting. They don’t want cursive to die. Handwriting matters … But does cursive matter?

    Research shows that the fastest and most legible handwriters join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations below.) Yet often, cursive programs and teachers strongly discourage such practices. Students learning cursive are taught to join all letters, and to use different shapes for cursive versus printed letters. (These requirements do not align with the research findings above.)

    What about _reading_ cursive? This matters vitally — it takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.
    (In other words, we could simply teach kids to _read_ old-fashioned handwriting and save the year-and-a-half that are expected to be enough for teaching them to _write_ that way too … not to mention the actually longer time it takes to teach someone to perform such writing _well_.)

    Of course, some folks claim that cursive has magic powers not shared by any other handwriting. Without exception, the research they cite (when they bother to give actual citations at all) turns out out to be misquoted or misrepresented. Read the actual studies: you’ll see that the benefits ascribed to cursive (ccordination, etc.) are in _all_ styles of handwriting. They are not limited to cursive. (will leave it to the misquoters and their disciples to ponder why the misquoting is done — and why any medium of information has uncritically accepted it.)
    What about signatures? Is cursive needed there? Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, then verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.
    The individuality of print-style (or other non-cursive style) writings is further shown by this: six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the writing on an unsigned assignment) which of her 25 or 30 students wrote it.

    There’s also this to consider: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (On this, I could quote legal sources — and lawyers — but that would take more room than a letter permits. So don’t take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)

    In short, there is neither common sense, nor fact, nor legal necessity, behind the idolatry of cursive.


    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub.
    1998: on-line at
    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer.
    1998: on-line at
    (NOTE: there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.
    Shouldn’t there be more of them?)

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest

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