The Great Cursive Writing Debate: Lost Art or Vital Skill?

The Great Cursive Writing Debate: Lost Art or Vital Skill?

The Oxford comma debate has been settled, as least in one court of law.

But another debate rages on in the halls of academia and the forums of word nerds: the great cursive debate.

Common Core standards removed cursive instruction as a requirement, which means that in 41 states, teachers aren’t obligated to teach it…so many of them don’t.

But states like Tennessee, Louisiana and California have fought back, making cursive a statewide standard.

To some, this gradual phasing out is inevitable, if not overdue. Others lament the loss of what they see as an art form and a necessary part of childhood education.

So are the connections, curlicues and flourishes most of us grew up with still relevant, or not?

Here’s a look at both sides of the debate.

Pros of cursive instruction

1. It’s good for your brain

According to science, the visceral experience of cursive writing can help students in more ways than being able to pen a pretty thank you note.

Since it engages both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, it can actually aid in reading comprehension, idea generation, spelling, brain development and memory.

2. It helps with dyslexia

Studies also suggest learning cursive can help students who suffer from forms of dyslexia, a disorder in which people have difficulty reading and writing words.

Typing, printing and cursive all stimulate different parts of the brain, and something about the circuits cursive activates, as well as the fine motor skills it hones, may help those who have difficulty forming written letters in the right order.

3. It bridges generations

Children who never learn cursive could have trouble doing things like deciphering a birthday note from Grandma or recognizing the words John Hancock signed his name under on the Declaration of Independence.

Just like knowing Latin can help you understand new languages, knowing cursive can help you unlock a wealth of historical knowledge and connect with past generations.

“Cursive writing is a long-held cultural tradition in this country and should continue to be taught,” says Jimmy Bryant, director of archives and special collections at the University of Central Arkansas; “not just for the sake of tradition, but also to preserve the history of our nation.”

4. It’s a form of creativity

From art classes to music programs, the chances for students to exercise creativity in school have been on the decline for decades. If cursive writing is phased out altogether, supporters argue, it will be one more form of artistic self-expression missing from today’s curriculums.

I believe that cursive handwriting is the creative canary in the coal mine — and it’s slowly, almost imperceptibly dying,” says cursive advocate Carew Papritz in an interview with The Good Men Project. “In our 24/7, technology-drenched, social-media drowning world, we are too busy to notice and too busy to care that we are losing the ability to learn how to self-express — by developing and harnessing the creative side of our nature.”

Cons of cursive instruction

1. It’s gone the way of the typewriter

In our digital age of laptops and texting, some argue cursive has become obsolete.

How many times have you penned a letter, written a check or drafted a story out longhand lately? (If the latter, you’re in good company — it’s the preferred method of wordsmiths like George R. R. Martin and Joyce Carol Oates ). Legal signatures don’t need to be in cursive; in fact, electronic signatures are often acceptable.

As we have done with the abacus and the slide rule, it is time to retire the teaching of cursive. The writing is on the wall,” writes Morgan Polikoff, assistant education professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, in a New York Times opinion piece titled, “Let Cursive Writing Die.”

2. It wastes valuable learning time

Teachers are already hard-pressed to cram everything they’re supposed to into the school day, especially in an educational atmosphere heavily geared towards meet testing requirements.

With big expectations to live up and not much time to do it in, teachers are forced to be selective — and sometimes, cursive writing just doesn’t make the cut.

“One of the things we heard from teachers around the country…was that sometimes cursive writing takes an enormous amount of instructional time,” Sue Pimentel, one of the people in charge of setting Common Core’s English/language standards, told PBS NewsHour. “You could be spending time on other things rather than students practicing cursive writing. It’s really a matter of emphasis.”

3. You can get the benefits of handwriting without writing in cursive

You don’t have to know how to write cursive in order to be able to read it.

There are no studies that show, definitely, that writing in cursive is more efficient than printing. Opponents argue that holding onto cursive as the last bastion of the art of handwriting misses the mark.

As handwriting author Kate Gladstone puts it in an opinion piece on The New York Times, Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.”

4. Most people abandon it anyway

Even those who learn cursive as children usually end up scrapping the practice as they get older.

A survey conducted by Zane-Bloser, a cursive textbook publisher, found that even handwriting teachers rarely used cursive regularly. The majority of them used an amalgam of print and cursive writing, something I myself do after a lifetime of tinkering with my personal style and learning what felt most efficient for me.

That said, would I go back in time and remove cursive from my lessons if I could, in order to focus on whatever might better serve me in 2017? I was the sort of kid who asked for a calligraphy set for Christmas, so I recuse myself from passing judgment.

Where do you fall in the great cursive debate? Yay or nay?

cursive writing debate

Filed Under: Craft
The Creative Class

Featured resource

Creative Class

Move from irregular client work and crappy pay to being a freelance leader in your field. Paul Jarvis, who’s been freelancing for 16+ years, shares his advice on pricing, positioning and more.


  • Jim Dickens says:

    I had mandatory classes in cursive in the 50’s in elementary school. As an elective, I took typing in high school in the 60’s. Since those days, I have earned a BA in history and I have been a computer programmer for over 30 years.

    To sum it up, both cursive and typing have been very useful to me for my entire life.

    For schools today, I would modernize and say that typing/keyboarding should be required teaching in the schools. However, cursive should always be an elective.

    In other words, I believe cursive and typing should switch places in today’s world with typing being mandatory and cursive being an elective.

  • BJ Menter says:

    It seems to be that American education is regressing; the more technology is added, the more it removes students from engaging in conversation and connection with others. Without cursive, there will be a disconnect with putting words on paper in a coherent and, yes, tangible form. Cursive disciplines the hand and mind while it connects thoughts through the body into self expression. I feel to not engage in using cursive disengages people from the actual whole body inclusivity of writing – and writing remains one of the strongest forms of communication we have – it is the expression of the strongest communication and connection we have with our inner selves and then, with each other. In relation to, “you don’t have to know how to write cursive in order to read it”, I beg to differ. How could you possibly read it without practicing how to write it? I could not read letters or historical documents until I had learned how to write cursive in school. Cursive allows you to be comfortable with historical letters and documents, and other forms of handwriting. Time consuming – perhaps. But necessary for the formation of one’s mind – absolutely.

  • Bill Ward says:

    My old friend, the late, and I should say great, Shelby Foote, the greatest Civil War researcher and writer of our time, wrote the magnificent three-volume treatise that covered all the battles of the War. It took him 20 years to write the three books, which are comprised of two of three million words.

    His writing was done using legal pads and the old fashioned dip-pens (like you used to see in the post office, for those of you old enough to remember). He had about 900 to 1,000 books in his library, all of which he had read at least once, some two or three times. I assume that from these he had written his three-volume set. He never used attributes. He said he knew where he got his information; his readers could take it or leave it. He must have done something correct: Shelby Foote had received 19 honorary doctorate degrees.

    Out of many conversations we had, mostly by phone, (I live in NC, Shelby lived in Memphis), I gleaned considerable information from him. I learned to write in cursive, but now when I write, I use a computer. I either print or write in cursive if I’m taking notes in an old cemetery or somewhere that I am mobile.

    I use end notes or footnotes probably for half of what I’ve written. I am a Bio-medical Engineer, but I’m almost 80 years old. I have studied U.S. History for more than 50 years, and I still write a lot.

  • John Backhouse says:

    So many times have I witnessed poor cursive writing by professionals; in health care, police and senior management. The list is endless. I don’t want to cast aspersions in this but some of them touched pen and paper as if they were plutonium. It’s a wonderfully tactile skill. Stop the global tech psychosis. Teach cursive writing!

  • I’m from the UK. Here, my granchildren learned cursive writing from the very beginning. I was surprised because I learned printing first and graduated to cursive at aged 8 or 9. Can’t remember exactly when.
    We did exercises where we wrote lines of individual letters, or pairs of letters. On the second line, we turned the paper upside down and repeated the letters.
    It made a pattern that we were encouraged to colour in. Learning cursive writing was fun.
    I also think that being able to write is an important skill. Yes, some people’s writing is terrible, but because some people can’t do something well is no reason to stop teaching it to everyone.

  • Carly says:

    Cursive is actually faster than printing and it’s often required for applications for jobs and in doctor’s offices. Not just checks.

  • Patrick says:

    Cursive writing should be preserved. That said, the arguments for preserving it are always likely to be more romantic than practical unless Nicholas Carr includes a chapter on cursive writing in his next book. But effective arguments based on intangibles are being made for keeping humanities courses in higher education, aren’t they? Watching a live stream of the solar eclipse will never replace making a simple camera obscura and going outside into the sunlight. Facebook will never take the place of healthy spiritual community. Saying “Thank you” or “Happy Birthday” or “I’m sorry for your loss” by text, tweet, or email will never take the place of a piece of hand-written correspondence.

  • Kim says:

    The removal of cursive is just one way that the government will have control over what we read and consequently, what we think. After all, who would be able to read the Constitution or the Bill of Rights? And what about the parts of the brain that are stimulated and form new neural pathways? The dumbing-down of America!

  • Joseph Rickman says:

    Yes, I think cursive writing should be taught in schools. That way, something would be taught besides feeling good about oneself. Children are no longer being taught grammar. I see evidence of that even in the college level and by public announcers such as sports commentators. Examples; He is taller than me. Will you take Jim and I to town? You will take ten times fewer pills. And in stores; Express Lane, 20 items or less. Unions have killed proper education.

  • Dan says:

    One form of learning is never superior to another. We often learn not for the practical but for allowing that there might be something else, something beyond whatever we are doing now, have always done “like that”, or for the sheer pleasure of it all. I am fascinated by those that can run their letters together. Despite the microwave, I can still boil water.

  • Emma says:

    I’d say I’m in favor of cursive being made readily available to learn, but not emphasized as a necessary art. It can be fun…but fun shouldn’t be forced. (For the record, though, I still have to sign checks all the time.)

  • Maybe 6 years ago, a co-worker who is 12 years younger than I grabbed my notebook during a meeting and said, “People still write that way?” He is a tech geek, and I’ve never seen him take notes on paper. My nieces don’t know cursive, and their printing is terrible.

    My mother had beautiful handwriting. Bucking the trend, I am trying to make my cursive neater, especially when I write cards to people. Yes, I still do that lost art form.

    Ironically, I find writing cursive when using apps that use the Apple Pencil is much easier. The one I use for quick brainstorming and note taking is great at understanding my cursive.

  • Well, it’s an interesting article and no doubt it may, or may not, start a raging debate. I’m possibly prejudiced but for me, writing in capitals is a sign of an uneducated person. When I was a child, “running writing” as it was called, was the goal we were all anxious to achieve. It showed we were moving into adulthood.
    Unfortunately, and perhaps this is my age although I think not, the removal of teaching cursive writing from any educational establishment is yet another part of the “dumbing down” of society. Perhaps it should be consigned to the past, along with spelling?

  • Kelly Paquet says:

    I feel that cursive writing is a vital skill that we must preserve and teach to the upcoming generations.

  • I find it fascinating how so many people hold out their own experience and history as exemplary. We can have this argument ad infinitum, and as with most language issues, what prevails, will prevail, and the next generation will survive. When I was in high school people were lamenting the lose of the study of Latin and Ancient Greek and how not knowing the roots and declensions of those languages would effect students intelligence, knowledge of certain texts, and ability to use the English. language It sounds rather silly, and forgotten, now.

    So as for history, those who want to study old documents can learn cursive, just as some people actually do still study ancient languages and history, while the vast majority have no need for it.

    And on a personal note, I wrote cursive for years, never liked writing by hand, though I still do for some things. It’s a habit. I wouldn’t say it was absolutely necessary for someone else’s creativity, though it might be too. Being versatile is healthy. And they might try it. I use a mix of print and cursive, because it feels better, and either way, most people can’t read my handwriting. I don’t consider this a reflection of either my (or anyone else’s) intelligence, love of beauty, or a lack of discipline or mental laziness.

    We evolve, change, grow, with all types of technology. Our habits, brains, and activities adjust and adapt. Young people are just as creative, intelligent, knowledgeable, interested in learning, or not as they ever were. With or without writing cursive, I think they’ll be just fine.

  • Sherry Kirkman Lee says:

    My will will be written in cursive so if my children can’t read it, oh well.. 🙂 I love knowing how to write in cursive. It is an art form for me. I can’t imagine giving or receiving a love letter in an email or hand printed. I agree we need cursive to read historical documents, write thank you notes, love letters, check signing and journaling. It’s faster and more beautiful (in some cases)

  • Tanya says:

    I have always used cursive since I learned it. It’s faster & easier than print, and expresses personality more, as someone with some knowledge of graphology.

  • William Seward says:

    I can see both sides of this argument. I am totally on the fence. My own response runs from “By golly, I had to learn it, so everybody else should learn it too!” to “who needs it?”
    My own cursive is fairly illegible. The career I got into after school was drafting where I printed everything and ultimately came to print everything else except my signature on a check. Honestly my printing was never that great either, although it was at least legible. I was happy when CAD came along and I could type on the computer all the various notes on drawings, and my printing wasn’t a drawback.
    Now I write. I compose just fine on a keyboard and prefer not to have to decipher my handwritten notes or pages to get them into the computer.
    I still feel like we’re losing something giving up cursive, but I’m not sure what it is. Those who want to can still learn it, I suppose.

  • Kathy says:

    The fact the Common Core thought it should be removed is reason enough for me to want it to stay. Your signature is your own personal stamp. I’m not sure of the science behind the benefits but I’ll concur with what the article states. On another note, students have had too much dumbing down of their education in history, science, math, etc., and way too much social engineering crammed down their throats via the NEA and Common Core advocates. It’s a disgrace! The U.S. is no longer among the top 10 countries in the world for its education system! Get rid of the NEA, Common Core and bring back the basics of education and cursive writing.

  • Debbie Groyer says:

    For forty years of printing except when signing checks, I convinced myself my handwriting was substandard. My 25-year-old daughter convinced me to thwart the self-fulfilling statement, and I started to write in cursive again. Now I journal in cursive and use it in writing class as well. My handwriting has improved and I find the activity thoroughly satisfying! We need to halt on the slippery slope to eliminating everything traditional from our society.

  • Wendy says:

    Two points: one that the article misses, and another I can refute.

    1) Cursive evolved because the continuous-line nature of cursive writing is faster than the each-letter-by-itself “printing” form of handwriting. So it DOES have an argument for existing in today’s rush-rush world.

    2) While I suppose it’s technically possible to learn to read cursive without learning to write it, where is the average student going to find examples to learn from, if no one’s writing with it? Maybe they’ll come across professional calligraphic samples, like the Constitution, but they won’t learn to read common “chicken-scratch” that ordinary writers have used for centuries. We’ve already got kids that can’t read their grandparents’ writing–even when it’s simple, predictable messages. I worked in a customer service department at an insurance company for a while; one letter was SUCH a scrawl, the only way I could figure it out was to trace over it and think, “What letter is my hand forming?” (How are you going to do that if you don’t know how to write cursive for yourself?) Saying that they can read it without learning to write it is wishful thinking.

  • Writing cursive helps me solve plot problems. Writing morning pages turns my blue Pilot ballpoint pens into magic wands. It’s my path to Infinite Universal Mind. The more I practice, the more legible my writing.

  • Barbara says:

    It is an objective (and for some, a saddening) fact that handwritten ink-on-paper will eventually become obsolete and most written communication will be technology-driven. Documents written in cursive can easily be “translated” in to print for those who can’t read cursive in the same way that literature is translated for those who can’t read the original language. But the issue of one’s cursive signature takes the discussion into a different realm. One’s cursive signature is literally a picture of the signer’s self, as unique to each person as a fingerprint and, for those in the forensic sciences who know how to decipher the hidden meanings in signatures, just as revealing. This is why we are required to sign agreements and not just block print our name or slap an X on the line. While I believe that progress will replace manual writing with technological printing, I do believe that children should be taught how to sign their own name and how to read the signature of someone else. It is a happy (at least, for me) by-product that, in in order to learn how to sign your own name and how to read someone else’s signature, you must learn the whole of the cursive alphabet.

    • Wendy says:

      You overestimate the ability of OCR. And signatures (a significant number of then, anyway) are the one thing you can’t be expected to read, even if you are an expert at cursive forms.

  • Terry Palmer says:

    Back in my day, we either had to learn printing or writing. Cursing wasn’t allowed. My mom caught me cursing and well, I’m a bit raw to this day. No indeed, to print was difficult for this young boy to master – to write became a mystery. Even more of a mystery as my parents or teachers tried to read my writing. We used easy to understand words like. “Will you write your name here.” We didn’t say. “Would you curse your name here.”
    I can imagine as a little boy, what that must’ve been like. “Come here son, show me what you did in school today.”
    Poor little boy tries to shrink away. “Um… We learned to curse our name.”
    “What?” Stern look. “I know what printing is and writing. That’s the way we all had to learn. What’s this cursing thing….”

    Do you see what a problem this has caused? The computer age isn’t the entire answer. For if you have a keyboard, you also need a printer, which gives a printed copy. Does anyone ask? Will you curse a copy for me?”
    If you have a printer and choose a fancy script, then people look at it in wonder. “What’s this, as if plain writing is gone.

    Please understand as I try to help my grand children the value and beauty of crisp clear written letters. Calligraphy is something to be desired and appreciated as an added value part of the menu.
    Please don’t curse when you read this. Please give a nicely written or printed reply.
    Author Terry Palmer

  • Holly says:

    I love writing in cursive. I personally retain information better when I write it down and my preferred way to write is cursive. I remember my mom setting up a notebook with words and phrases with her cursive writing and teaching me how to write in cursive. My schools never taught me cursive.
    I followed in this traditional although slightly modified with print outs from online for my kids to work on their cursive. They very much enjoy learning to write it.
    Is it necessary? Maybe not. But neither is a tablet or computer full of games that most of their friends spend hours on. Or the hours of TV that they watch. I pride myself in my penmenship and want my kids to as well. It
    The technological age doesn’t mean we have to give up everything that was old. Typewriters? Maybe but there are many that still favor them to computers. Computers offer distractions aplenty and typewriters don’t.
    Sure I can go to the store and buy a pre cooked meal or I could make it myself. I could get groceries delivered or I can pick them out myself to ensure the quality I desire to consume. These are all choices not just conveniences. People who only see technology as an aid aren’t looking from all sides of the equation. Advanced are good and bad. It’d a give and take.
    Kids today, in most States and especially here in Nevada, learn how to take tests, they don’t always learn useful information. I watched my elementary school kids stress over standardized tests more in the last few years then I ever remember taking in High school. So is learning cursive useless? No, I don’t think it is. Could it be beneficial? Well, we can’t really know since we stopped teaching it. But we are not teaching kids to slow down and just breathe. Cursive allows for that. Not the scribbling cursive that many consider cursive. You know… That chicken scratch that most doctors have succumbed to because it’s faster. I mean really slow down to allow the thoughts to escape onto paper.
    I think best when I have the full effect of feel, sound, movement and even smell (of the paper usually), it’s like a much needed sleep breath. My thoughts flow and my creativity blossoms. But I also grew up with a love of pens and paper from an early age so I think it has something to do with it.

Speak Your Mind

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.