By Abby Duker
UJW Staff Writer
WARRENTON, Va. — Nina Anderson remembers writing every high school paper in cursive. She recalls how this forced her to think hard about what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it. Neatness counted as much as creativity, and there was no backspace button to serve as a quick-fix. The years of cursive she learned in grade school were constantly put to the test.
Today, Anderson is a teacher at Greenville Elementary School in Nokesville, Va. She has noticed that while cursive is part of the curriculum, it does not receive the focus it did while she was in school.
“Teachers will just teach it for a short while, but unfortunately that is all they do,” Anderson said. “Because of the drive to prepare kids for the SOLs [standardized tests for students enrolled in Virginia public schools], teachers are bound [curriculum-wise]. Handwriting has fallen by the wayside, which is sad because it is such a valuable skill.”
Focus on standardized testing, along with an increasingly technology-oriented society, has contributed to a dwindling emphasis on cursive writing in schools. According to a 2010 research brief by Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Office of Assessment, Research, and Data Analysis (Fla.), “since cursive handwriting is used less and less frequently in modern society, many scholars view its inclusion in the elementary school curriculum as a luxury, based on tradition rather than sound educational principles.”
Though these causes may seem clear to some, the effects of losing this art form are less obvious. Along with cursive, what other values and benefits is society losing?
Some have raised concerns that the loss of cursive may deprive students of some of the benefits that cursive writing offers.
William Klemm, a professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University, believes that “cursive, or handwriting in general, as opposed to printing or typing, makes unique neurophysiological demands that surely ought to benefit brain development in children.”
Klemm manages the blog Memory Medic on PsychologyToday.com. In one post on this blog, he described how writing by hand develops fine motor skills, improves ability to categorize, and allows us to learn and remember universal features of characters.
“Cursive writing, compared to printing, is even more beneficial because the movement tasks are more demanding, the letters are less stereotypical, and the visual recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation,” he said in a March post. “Cursive is also faster and more likely to engage students by providing a better sense of personal style and ownership.”
Kristine Ackerman has also noticed these benefits. Ackerman is a third grade teacher at P.B. Smith Elementary School in Warrenton, Va. who is required to cover cursive instruction with her students. She believes that cursive helps improve the writing skills and creativity of some students.
“There are examples of some kids that their printing is horrendous and then they’re excited about cursive, so then they put more effort into it, and perhaps it’s easier for them,” Ackerman said. “And those that typically already like writing or have good print handwriting tend to enjoy cursive even more, just because they get to be creative with it.”
Ackerman also believes that even if students don’t learn how to write in cursive, basic recognition of the letters is still beneficial.
“Our historical documents are written in cursive and it would be helpful if you could at least recognize that an ‘r’ is an ‘r’,” she said. “Even with computers, they change the fonts of things and so it teaches kids that different letters can look differently depending on what font you use. Many menus, posters, and even signs may be written in cursive.”
However limited, there still exist some real world situations in which the ability to write in cursive is necessary. As a result, some high school students who were not taught cursive in elementary school have actually taught the skill to themselves.
Margaret Swift, a senior at Kettle Run High School in Nokesville, Va. is one such student.
“My mom used to always tell me that printing was too slow,” she said. “I’d never put in the effort to actually write fluidly in cursive, but now that I’ve gotten better at it, it’s definitely a lot faster. Also, it looks nicer and more professional than printing.”
For Swift, and any other student who has taken the SAT college entrance exam, the skill has come in handy at least once. The SAT requires all test takers to write and sign an honor statement in legible cursive.
Blair McAvoy, a junior at Kettle Run, points out that during her SAT, many students struggled to accomplish this task.
“It took people like five minutes just to write the honor statement!” McAvoy said. “It’s just sad, because it seems like something you should be able to do.”
With the SAT being such an important test for college admissions, this raises concerns that the ability to write in cursive may give some students an edge over others. According to a College Board report conducted after the 2006 SAT, essays on the exam written in cursive received slightly higher scores, on average, than those written in print.
If cursive may have an impact on SAT scores, how might a nice John Hancock or the ability to write legibly and artfully affect someone in the real world?
According to business experts, not much.
“I do not believe there is a correlation between having a ‘good signature’ and career success,” Michael Ginzberg, dean of the Kogod School of Business at American University, said. “I know some very successful people who have very unimpressive signatures and some whose signatures are neat and beautiful.”
Ginzberg did suggest that the benefits of cursive may vary depending on occupation.
“I guess if you want to be Secretary of the Treasury or Treasurer of the United States and have your signature on every dollar bill, having a good signature would be valuable,” he said.
Others argue that although a signature or handwriting may not affect one’s success in the workplace, it may influence how certain aspects of them are perceived.
“A person’s writing could impact how a person is perceived from handwritten documents such as their job application or other place where they are writing,” Arlene Hill, director at AU’s business school, said.
Still, Hill maintains that in the business world, legibility of a signature or handwriting should not affect judgements on more than just the quality of one’s handwriting.
“Many people have illegible signatures, partially to make them more difficult to forge,” she said. “Have you ever tried to read your doctor’s writing on a pharmacy pad? Yet I don’t think that the doctor is not equipped to practice medicine or unintelligent because he can’t write a legible signature.”