I’ve been dismayed by recent articles about how many schools have stopped teaching cursive. My own children attend a public Montessori school where they start cursive in kindergarten, and I’m thankful that is part of their curriculum.
I understand the constraints schools are under these days to teach a growing array of skills, and I’m sure finding time to have children do the repetitive work of learning to write clearly by hand may seem better spent on other things, but I’d like to take a moment to argue in favor of cursive. I believe it’s worth our children’s time.
The arguments against it are that people use electronic devices and keyboards now, printing is clearer, and that there is essentially not enough bang for your buck to warrant taking time for it in the classroom. I would counter that cursive is practical, beautiful, and fills a variety of useful needs that should be embraced as part of a well-rounded education.
The technology argument is short-sighted. It’s simply true that sometimes you need to write by hand, and it makes sense to learn to do it in a way that is both quick and standardized enough to be understood by many. Of course much of what we write today is done with some form of keyboard, but that doesn’t mean it’s all we should know. That’s like saying since most of us drive there is no point in learning to ride a bike or take public transportation. Electronics break, batteries die, and if you have to leave a note on a stranger’s car or under a door, you need to know how to write on actual paper. There are simply some environments that don’t lend themselves to using electronic devices for recording information. My four years of violin making school with all my legal pads full of notes come to mind. I transferred my longhand notes to my laptop at the end of each week, but my sketches mixed with written information were invaluable and I don’t know of another way I could have captured all of that as efficiently. Printing is nice, but slower. There is no reason that cursive can’t be just as clear when done with the proper care.
Not to mention, at its best, handwriting is beautiful.
The truth is that writing, either in cursive or printing, takes practice. You cannot expect to magically know how to use a pen or pencil without training the appropriate muscles and developing the proper eye-hand coordination. You don’t teach kids to type on keyboards and then assume they can suddenly use their hands for writing without practice. There is great value in being able to transfer what you see in your mind to the page. More people should be trained in basic drawing skills because that is extremely useful (and is another area of education that is too thoughtlessly dismissed), and I think writing for many is the closest a lot of us get to that. If you develop the skills it takes to make clear curves and straight lines you have a lot of possibilities at your fingertips. Why not do that by learning something as practical as writing? Why would we deny our children the chance to develop a skill set that has so many potential applications?
Writing also helps you process things in a different way. I know I make the most progress in teaching people to read music when I make them write it out themselves. Just because someone’s seen a treble clef and recognizes it, doesn’t mean he or she has ever taken the time to truly notice what it looks like. Making my students think about it and engage different parts of their brain to write it out helps them learn. Writing helps teach you how to see and remember. I see the same kinds of benefits when my kids need help with spelling. Writing words out carefully and well helps them learn.
I asked my own children (one in fifth grade, one in third) what they think of writing in cursive at school. They told me they prefer it. Printing is slow, and when you are dong it quickly it’s more prone to becoming unclear. My kids said they like the differentiated looks of particular letters (compared to printed letters like “b” and “d”) and that individual words are easier to see since the letters are connected. They also thought it looked more sophisticated, and they had a poor opinion of most people’s printing, describing it as babyish. They could both name people in their classes who had handwriting they admired and they aspired to improve their own skills to that level.
Doesn’t sound like wasted time to me.
And last but not least, handwriting is personal. When you take the time to write certain thoughts down, the mere act of writing them with your own hands is powerful. I have dozens upon dozens of fascinating, well-written, gripping, touching emails from my husband during his deployments to Iraq. I am grateful for every time he took the opportunity to share those thoughts. But I also have two hand-written letters just to me from that same period. Which do you think I still reread? It’s not the same to print out an email that says, “I love you” that looks as if I could have written it to myself some lonely afternoon. I prefer a piece of paper that was in Iraq with my husband, that he wrote on in his own slightly scrunchy handwriting, telling me he was thinking of me when he put that pen to paper.
I’m glad my kids write in cursive. An education that does not prepare children to communicate their ideas in a way that is powerful and personal, efficient and beautiful, is not a full education.
Korinthia Klein is a violin maker, writer, musician, married to a soldier and the mother of three pretty wonderful kids. More of her writing can be found on her blog Korinthia’s Quiet Corner. And her newly published novel, “Almost There” is available at Amazon in both print and Kindle form.