“Help! I feel like I should tell people that I work with that I can’t read cursive, but I can’t really think of a way to do this without sounding like an idiot. But, really…I cannot read cursive, at all! 2nd grade was a long time ago and those skills are gone forever…What to do?”
This Facebook post by a 20-something bright young professional whom I mentor really resonated with me recently – as a parent of a teenager in the public school system, I know there are literally millions who are not being taught how to read or write cursive handwriting. I had thought about it in the context of how she would sign her name or write hand-written thank you notes, but never until this had I considered how it would affect her generation’s ability to work effectively with others who, like me, were taught cursive handwriting as a matter of course, and are still using it in the business setting.
This millennial had received edits to her work from a senior executive and couldn’t implement them. Of course it’s not her fault, but she still didn’t want to chance losing credibility by articulating that she couldn’t read cursive. So, what to do? When meeting with her recently, another colleague and I discussed it and counseled her to just say “I’m having difficulty reading your handwriting” or better yet, work with the executive’s assistant to decipher the edits. She was able to do this effectively, but the issue has larger implications.
According to Cursive a Puzzle for Many Young Students, Melissa Nix writes:
The digital age has pushed to the periphery a penmanship skill used for generations. The world of personal computers, email and texting has rendered the handwritten note an anomaly, something that many of today’s students get only from grandparents. Some parents complain that their middle schoolers can’t sign their names.
Linda Spencer delves into the national trend away from cursive handwriting in her excellent article Does Cursive Handwriting Need to be Taught in a High Tech World outlining how the Department of Education’s Common Core State Standards for education lists keyboarding as a required skill, but excludes cursive altogether.
Today the Common Core State Standards allow each state to decide whether to include cursive handwriting in their curriculum. Given the choice more and more states have been choosing to eliminate cursive handwriting instruction from their schools.
So aside from the obvious difficulties in communicating effectively between generations, what other impacts does eliminating cursive have on those not learning it? Serious ones, according to the research outlined in Spencer’s article.
An Educational Summit titled “Handwriting in the 21st Century” held in Washington, D.C. included the attendance of professors, neuroscientists, teachers and interested citizens. Presenters shared cross-disciplinary handwriting research and attendees voiced their opinions about whether—and how—this skill should be taught. Several neuroscientists presented findings ranging from handwriting and occupational therapy to neuroscience research that documents the impact of handwriting on kids’ learning. One of the most remarkable findings came from Karin Harman-James at Indiana University. She presented research she conducted using MRI scans of children’s brains. Her research showed that writing by hand activated parts of the brain associated with language development, while keyboarding did not.
And then there are the historical impacts.
“Who, when several generations have chosen the keyboard over cursive, will be able to read handwritten love letters or historical documents?” asked Dennis Williams, the national product manager for Zaner-Bloser, an education publisher that produces popular cursive instruction curriculum. Certainly Zaner-Bloser has a bias, but he makes a valid point.
“If students can’t read or write cursive, there will be parts of the world they will not be able to access,” stated Patrick O’Neill, an assistant principal in Sacramento, CA. “They have to be able to access the forms of communication available today.”
It will be interesting to see if the art of cursive handwriting can be saved, or if we will become a society where thank you notes are only received via text, Facebook or email, or if in hard copy form, with chicken scratch signatures.
Call me old fashioned, but as I type this post (and am admittedly grateful that I don’t have to do so in long-hand or cursive), I’m somehow still rooting for cursive.