Debunking Pro-Cursive Arguments

Controversy: The dance of the pen versus digital communication is part of the Common Core rant.

Substantial research supports the need to teach children handwriting. Most schools teach, have taught, or are/were supposed to teach it. There is a growing problem with time in classrooms to teach it!

The most common practice is to teach print-script in the earliest grades. The characters are slowly drawn and stiff. Except for ‘e’ alphanumeric strokes start at the top and move down. Habits of movement (motor memory) are established only to be later tossed out. In second or third grade new habits must be formed for a cursive alphabet with very different stroke direction and sequence that allows all lowercase letters within words to join.

Few young children have the interest, motivation or ability for this. So, as they grow older they achieve chicken scratch.

Currently, parents, legislators and others of influence are pushing for inclusion of  ‘cursive’ in curricula. It seems the word, cursive, has come to define only the Palmer-like version that dates to the latter part of the nineteenth century. I use the term, conventional cursive.

A variety of cursives have been used throughout the ages whenever literate people needed to make quick notations. For our Roman alphabet there is a better cursive, italic, easier to teach, read, and faster to write. Basic, unjoined lowercase letters never change shape or stroke direction in order to join for fluency. This simplicity makes classroom instruction efficient, with plenty of time to teach computing too.

I have been sending out comments to many in the media, hoping to promote the study of the available research before decisions are made about handwriting instruction. Should conventional cursive be taught or another more fluent hand? Why conventional cursive when many people say they cannot read it?

Here are some of the misguided, misquoted statements I often read, and try to counter:
1) It strengthens cognition. No, any writing by hand does that.
2) It is faster. No, that’s never been proved.
3) We need to read the Constitution and Granny’s letters. Not a problem: it takes less than an hour to learn to read the conventional cursive alphabet.
4) It benefits fine motor skill. Then why do I see so many media graphics of children writing their conventional cursive lesson with death grips on pencils? No one is teaching the relaxed pen hold that is essential to fluent writing!
5) We need signatures. No, every hand makes an individual mark.

Advocates of conventional cursive may truly believe the unproven claims that conventional cursive is superior. Frequently, the media backs up this belief by misinterpreting and misquoting researchers. Yes, even a recent New York Times article was misinterpreted.

Handwriting in elementary grades strengthens cognition. So children need it. They move their hands and fingers to form letters. The action goes into motor memory to be recalled for reading. For the sake of better education for our children, serious, thoughtful attention is needed.

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