Pop QuizPrimary Education

Pop Quiz: Should we keep teaching cursive?

In this thread from Andrew Sullivan’s blog a number of readers sound off about their experiences learning and using cursive, with a fairly large majority coming out against its continued use. Now, calligraphy (and handwriting in general) has always been an interest of mine, but hard as it is to detach myself from the issue emotionally I do find the arguments in favour of continuing to teach it in primary school (hand-eye coordination, speed) a little weak and unsupported by any serious data.

What do you think? How often do you use cursive? Is it still worth teaching or has the ubiquity of keyboards made it superfluous?

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Dan holds a PhD in Music History from a major Canadian university and is now pursuing a M.Ed in Higher Education at another one, because he likes to collect very expensive paper. He performs stand-up comedy at venues all over Toronto when he's not busy playing JRPGs with his cat, Roy. You can follow him at @incontrariomotu, but he isn't going anywhere. You can also send him a tip on PayPal (paypal.me/dandonnelly) if you like his work!


  1. May 28, 2013 at 5:14 pm —

    I don’t know about cursive in particular, but writing legibly should still be taught. Regardless of the ubiquity of technology, we still have to write. I don’t allow technology in my classes, and I know another professor who also does not allow technology and who was asked by a student when I was her TA if he could still be allowed to take notes on his iPad because he cannot write legibly. It may have been an attempt at an excuse, but seriously, some of the handwritten essays I’ve seen look like a first grader wrote it; conversely, sometimes people write in the oddest cursive scripts that are barely legible.

    So, yes, I think handwriting should still be taught–I just don’t know that it must be cursive.

  2. May 29, 2013 at 1:35 pm —

    My mother gives me crap from time to time about no longer using cursive. We went to the same strict Catholic school (though years apart) and yet she retains perfect cursive, and I’ve long since ditched it. Maybe it’s in part generational?

    Agree with Will, legibility is needed. I suppose that can easily get lost with more and more classrooms moving to computers. But surely much of primary school is still done on paper, right? I was shocked too learn that many students don’t know how to make a simple graph on graph paper, though have become proficient with Excel. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but it did make me feel a bit old.

  3. May 30, 2013 at 7:38 am —

    Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources below.)

    Reading cursive matters, but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. Why not teach children to read cursive, along with teaching other vital skills, including a handwriting style typical of effective handwriters?

    Adults increasingly abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 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?

    Cursive’s cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you smarter, makes you graceful, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

    What about signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

    All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.


    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    [AUTHOR BIO: Kate Gladstone is the founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works and the director of the World Handwriting Contest]

    Yours for better letters,

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

  4. May 30, 2013 at 5:29 pm —

    Thanks Kate for your input. I agree that reading/writing skills are different, and in might be more effective to give kids a shorter instruction in reading cursive and familiarity with its letters, perhaps later in their education and much in the same way that students of foreign languages are instructed in different forms of handwriting (like how we learned Sütterlin one day in my high school German class).

    But yes, Will hits the nail on the head about writing legibly–there is nothing more frustrating than trying to make out pages of completely unintelligible chicken-scratch in an exam booklet when a pile of fifty more are sitting in front of you. There will of course always be students who have legitimate trouble with the fine motor skills required for legible handwriting (or some other disability), and these students will have to be dealt with in a reasonable and compassionate way from an early age (including allowing them to type in situations that normally require handwriting)…the trouble will be individuating them and addressing their needs adequately without either 1) making them feel bad and 2) giving a free pass to other students who just don’t care to learn.

    • May 30, 2013 at 5:31 pm —

      And of course if we really care about speed we could always bring back shorthand. My grandmother tried to teach me when I was little but I never got the hang of it. She used to practise by taking dictation from the radio.

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