As we jump back in time to first grade, you probably recall the dreaded days when the teacher began to teach us how to write in cursive. Even though it was such a struggle to connect all of the letters within each word, I remember feeling like such an adult because I could finally write like one. Not many kids can say that anymore. You ask them to sign their name, and it takes them so long to figure out where to even start. At this point is it even possible for cursive to make a comeback?
Null Hypothesis: Cursive does not need to be taught/learned anymore.
Alternative Hypothesis: Cursive needs to continue to be taught/learned.
In May 2013, the New York Times decided to propose a debate in their opinion pages for the topic, “Is Cursive Dead?”. Four people shared their thoughts on this topic, two supporting cursive and two rejecting cursive.
Supporters: Suzanne Baruch Asherson (occupational therapist at the Beverly Hills Unified School District in California) and Jimmy Bryant (director of archives and special collections at the University of Central Arkansas)
Rejecters: Morgan Polikoff (assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education) and Kate Gladstone (founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works and director of the World Handwriting Contest)
Asherson wrote an article called, “The Benefits of Cursive Go Beyond Writing”, stating that writing in cursive makes use of more parts of the brain compared to printing or typing. She mentioned “the College Board found that students who wrote in cursive for the essay portion of the SAT scored slightly higher than those who printed, which experts believe is because the speed and efficiency of writing in cursive allowed the students to focus on the content of their essays”.
Bryant’s article is titled, “Cursive Handwriting Is a Cultural Tradition Worth Preserving”, and as an archivist, he believes that writing in cursive is a form of art that should be cherished. “At one time in our history people took great pains to write a letter utilizing their best penmanship. In fact, a case could be made that some of the finer examples of cursive writing are actually a form of art”.
On the other hand, Polikoff’s article, “Let Cursive Handwriting Die”, focuses on the future instead of trying to bring back the past. He states, “Given these realities, 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”.
Lastly, you have Gladstone’s opinion, “Handwriting Matters; Cursive Doesn’t”. She mentioned that handwriting teachers were surveyed while at a conference hosted by publishers of cursive textbooks. “37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it?”
After being presented with these different opinions, has your view of writing in cursive changed?
There are PROs and CONs when it comes to comparing cursive and print. Cursive is more natural, and helps with motor skills by using smooth strokes as the pen is able to flow in between letters. With cursive, words are clearly separated from each other which makes the sentence easier to read. If you can read cursive, chances are you can read manuscript as well, but that is not the case the other way around.
Printing is obviously more widely used. The alphabet for manuscript is easier to use than the cursive alphabet. Many people believe cursive is less legible and harder to read, which is why many documents will have the phrase “please print” typed at the top. Also, people with dyslexia, who have a hard time reading, can only get more confused by trying to distinguish letters written in cursive.
While the debate between cursive and printing could continue on, there is a new, third variable that could be introduced into the hypothesis. We live in the 21st-century which means we have the luxury of being able to type on computers and smartphones. Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, created and executed an experiment that tested children who were not yet taught how to read or write. They were “presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer”. The children were then placed in a brain scanner and the image was shown to them again. When the kids drew the letter freehand, they used more parts of their brain than when they traced or typed the letter.
James conducted another study to compare kids who learn by watching others form the letters. She concluded that the effort of writing the letter is the only way to get the brain fully engaged and ultimately learn how to write.
Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, conducted a study focusing on children in 2nd grade to 5th grade to try and prove that printing, cursive, and typing all use different brain patterns. “When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas”, she stated.
Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, have done research to prove that college students who write down notes instead of typing them on a computer are able to learn and process the information better.
After looking through numerous amounts of studies, it seems as if the initial null and alternative hypotheses are outdated. If I were to choose a hypothesis that best fits the studies and information gathered it would be the alternative hypothesis, but just with one small revision.
Cursive Writing needs to continue to be taught and learned in the classroom.