Earlier this year, while sitting in an Appalachian History class, the professor began a random post test discussion on hand writing. Obviously this was not a part of the lecture notes but just one of those beautiful insights one can get in a college classroom. When the class engaged in this subject, I made the remark that I used the archaic form of handwriting known as cursive. My cohorts thought it was humorous. Only a few of them, like myself, wrote in cursive. The rest obviously wrote in standard print. The reason I made the original comment is because as a teacher I’ve noticed my students in the high school classroom never use cursive. On top of that, those same students cannot read my notes on their papers because I write in cursive. Why is this? Why do more students of my generation know cursive but the next generations do not. Although I would love to claim intellectual superiority here, I know that is not the answer. The real answer actually adds truth to my joke above. Cursive, at least in the eyes of the public school system, seems to have become archaic.
A report done in January by ABC News found that a total of forty-one states adopted the Common Core State Standards for English (CCSSE). The CCSSE, set by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), sets a general framework of content for students to learn before going to college. This new framework does not include cursive writing. States can, however, opt to include cursive writing. Massachusetts and California being among two that have. It appears the state of Georgia, will not be one of those schools to opt for inclusion. As the country “moves forward” in education, cursive writing is definitely taking a back seat.
Most states fall under the requirements of No Child Left Behind and other various standardized tests. Schools’ academic qualities are based on how well their students do on those tests. Curricula is created and driven in order to help students excel on those tests. How do standardized tests affect cursive writing? Well, the tests affect this writing style because it is not used or required on any of these tests. Because schools, counties, and states feel enormous pressure to maintain government regulated testing averages, curriculum ends up being created for the test. Subjects not included on the tests fall in between the cracks. Such is the case for cursive writing. Testing is not, however, the only argument against cursive writing.
Some advocates of removing cursive writing, which may very well include current students, argue that it is not needed. The argument is that cursive writing is not the way of the future. In these advocates’ minds, it is not dropping cursive writing, but replacing it with various keyboard skills. This makes sense when you think about about the modern student and put emphasis on the amount of time they spend online or texting their peers. Some parents simply are not convinced and it appears they have science to back them up.
Although it is definitely apparent in this modern world that typing is important, according to Neuroscience handwriting is more important. From the ABC News report, Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre stated that “handwriting seems, based on empirical evidence from neuroscience, to play a larger role in the visual recognition and learning of letters.” In short, just as ABC summarizes, those that write by hand learn better. With this evidence cited in the ABC report, why take writing out of the curriculum? Well for one, this move by the NGA is not erasing writing per say but the art of cursive writing. It appears that the implement of an extra writing form is time consuming and counter productive to the future use of the keyboard and/or learning. I do not anticipate that writing itself will disappear. The first typewriter came out in the 1860’s c.e. yet humanity uses handwriting even today. I think we can safely say that the “keyboarding is the future,” argument for getting rid of cursive writing, is just as weak as the counter argument that “humans will not be able to hand write anymore” with the increased use of keyboarding.
Greek Manuscript in cursive, 6th century c.e.
Why keep cursive writing at all? Well, because like it or not, cursive writing, in one form or another, is apart of human history. Cursive writing can be traced as far back as the 6th century c.e. Now that may not be important to the public school system. Public schools already have access to Machiavelli’s The Prince in standard print. But to higher education, cursive means a lot more.Yes as a Historian I can use an internet printout of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence accessed here. But to me that is unethical and shoddy history. I need (emphasis on that word) that original document. Obviously that is hard to get given the amount of security and how much the document is fading over time. But it is still there for me to see. And sadly, for some, it is written in that archaic form known as cursive writing. Not only is the DOI written in cursive but it is famous for the beauty of its content and appearance. What a shame it would be to not be able to read it first hand.(Digital image and Digital Copy)
So what does this mean for today’s colleges? Cursive writing may need to be treated as a foreign language. For masters programs, it probably needs to be a requirement to “translate” a document out of cursive and into print. Students of History, Political Science, Sociology, Psychology, Geology, Biology, Chemistry, etc. need to able to read and understand the first hand accounts and journal notes of those that came before them. It is not a matter of intellectual superiority but of practicality. Future scholars must be able to read the notes of those that came before and not the second hand transcriptions. Since cursive writing is being phased out in the public schools, colleges are going to have to adapt and pick up the slack.