Monday, April 22, 2019
This recent article in the New York Times reports that cursive is making a comeback and the reasons are many fold from political conservatism to claims about the cognitive benefits of writing by hand. But a humorous bit of handwriting trivia revealed by the article is that during the Cold War, cursive writing became associated with patriotism. As a result, some believed that if our kids didn't learn cursive in school, as a nation we were more vulnerable to the "red menace."
While cursive has been relegated to nearly extinct tasks like writing thank-you cards and signing checks, rumors of its death may be exaggerated.
The Common Core standards seemed to spell the end of the writing style in 2010 when they dropped requirements that the skill be taught in public elementary schools, but about two dozen states have reintroduced the practice since then.
Last year, elementary schools in Illinois were required to offer at least one class on cursive.
Last month, a law went into effect in Ohio providing funding for materials to help students learn cursive by fifth grade.
And beginning this fall, second graders in Texas will learn cursive, and will be required to know how to write it legibly by third grade.
Even as keyboards and screens have supplanted pencil and paper in schools, lawmakers and defenders of cursive have lobbied to re-establish this old-school writing pedagogy across the country, igniting a debate about American values and identity and exposing intergenerational fault lines.
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Psychologists and neuroscientists say that handwriting positively affects brain development, motor skills, comprehension and memory. Cursive may be particularly helpful for those with developmental dysgraphia — motor-control difficulties in forming letters — and it may help prevent the reversal and inversion of letters, according to a 2012 report.
But some research has been taken out of context, or misrepresented, to further a pro-cursive agenda, said Kate Gladstone, who calls herself the Handwriting Repairwoman and runs an organization by the same name.
“The world of handwriting is very much the world of fake news and crooked elections,” she said.
In 2018, State Senator Jean Leising of Indiana was called out for citing a study that she claimed showed cursive writing “prepares students’ brains for reading and enhances their writing fluency and composition.” The researcher said the study made claims only about writing by hand.
There are also corporate interests at play. In 2013, Ms. Gladstone traced research that was used in bills in North and South Carolina to require cursive instruction in schools to a for-profit company that creates instructional materials to teach handwriting, Zaner-Bloser Publishing.
Kathleen Wright, a spokeswoman for the company’s handwriting division, said that it does not lobby for legislation, but that it does provide lawmakers with research “because we’re recognized as the gold standard of handwriting instruction,” she said.
But Ms. Wright acknowledged that some legislators “may have erroneously conflated studies showing the cognitive benefits of writing by hand to focus specifically on the benefits of writing in cursive.”
Sheila Lowe, the president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, said that about 21 states had adopted some form of cursive requirement in schools since the Common Core standards were introduced.
“We’re not trying to replace electronics,” Ms. Lowe said. “Cursive is an important part of brain training.”
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