Is cursive an outdated and unnecessary facet of American education? Once again, Common Core is causing an academic stir—this time surrounding its exemption of cursive from required curricula. Instead, the computer keyboard is becoming school’s chosen writing methodology, according to a Tuesday article in The Atlantic:
Opponents of script argue that needing to read and write in cursive is no longer relevant in an increasingly digital society. Some believe that cursive is essentially archaic, the importance of which is relegated only to checks, signatures, and the occasional love letter. They believe instructional time is better devoted to other classroom subjects that are included on standardized tests, and cursive is not necessary for academic achievement. After all, they say, we have computers and speech dictation machines.
The Washington Post heralded the imminent demise of longhand in 2006, after only 15 percent of 1.5 million SAT test-takers used cursive. The rest printed in block letters. While some experts were unconcerned by the trend, others warned that the demise of handwriting could have unexpected consequences:
…Academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it’s important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades. Scholars who study original documents say the demise of handwriting will diminish the power and accuracy of future historical research. And others simply lament the loss of handwritten communication for its beauty, individualism and intimacy.
There are numerous practical skills, like those mentioned above, associated with cursive. After the Los Angeles Times printed an article on the archaic nature of cursive, teachers responded with various defenses—arguing that it improved coordination, focus, even mathematical skills. Steve Jobs, famous former Apple CEO, studied calligraphy at Reed College and found inspiration in its beauty. He told Stanford graduates in 2005, “I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture.” He added, “If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.” Ironically, Microsoft mastermind Bill Gates is a significant financial sponsor of the Common Core curriculum.
Beyond all the cognitive, academic, intellectual, and aesthetic benefits of cursive, there is perhaps one more. Cursive, despite its loopy letters and structured theory, truly develops with the individual hand. Thus, every person’s handwriting will be unique and personal. In an age of computers, where professors mandate essays in Times New Roman 12 pt, and a swath of fonts are available via Dafont, cursive preserves artistic diversity. And it is comforting to know that we few cursive users still have a unique print in the world. The Atlantic article sums it up nicely: “In a very meaningful way, the debate between cursive and print, or keyboards and handwriting, is entirely up to us: what type of mark do we want to leave?”