In Missouri Schools, Cursive Handwriting Dashes On

Categories: Education

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Will the Mighty Missouri Cursive Weasel become an endangered species?
​Indiana's department of education recently announced that it will no longer require cursive handwriting to be taught in public schools. This provoked a series of newspaper articles in which the pros and cons of eliminating handwriting instruction were debated and analyzed.

Cons: Young people will no longer be able to read archival material. They will not be able to sign their names. They will write more slowly because when you print, you have to pick up your pen between letters, and that wastes time. Lack of cursive practice will be detrimental to fine-motor skills.

Pros: Classroom handwriting instruction is really, really, really boring.

Since 1996, Missouri has not required that elementary school students learn cursive. "The Missouri curriculum calls for 'legible writing,'" says Michele Clark, a spokeswoman for the department of education. In almost every school district, though, that's been interpreted as cursive.

There are no official statistics on how many Missouri students are still learning cursive, Clark says, but based on polls and anecdotal evidence, the department of education believes that it's still being taught in every school district in the state.

"While it may be taught in one grade level and not in subsequent levels, very few teachers say it's not taught in their district at all," says Clark.

There's also been no movement to eliminate cursive altogether, despite the many adults who claim to bear mental scars from spending hours scratching out the same dips and loops over and over again. (Or maybe that's just us.)

"One argument in favor of teaching cursive is that unless you learn it, you'll be unable to read seminal American documents," Clark declares.

Oh, but who cares? They're all available online! Although perhaps future generations would be unable to get the joke of "applying your John Hancock" to a document, and that would be unspeakably sad.

The students of Indiana, meanwhile, will be using all their newfound free time to work on their computer skills.

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Kate Gladstone
Kate Gladstone

Handwriting matters ... But does cursive matter? 

Research shows: the fastest, most legible handwriters avoid cursive — joining only some letters, not all; making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, using print-like shapes for letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citation on request.) 

Reading cursive still matters -- learning this takes just 30-60 minutes, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old who knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it. 

When following the rules doesn't work as well as breaking them, it's time to re-write and upgrade the rules. The discontinuance of cursive — in Indiana and 48 other states — brings great opportunities to teach some better-functioning form of handwriting that actually approaches what the fastest, clearest handwriters do anyway. (There are indeed textbooks and curricula that teach handwriting this way. Cursive and printing are not the only choices.)

Neither has Cawdron supported his claim that cursive somehow prevents the shorthand abbreviation system known as "texting," which he chooses to despise. I've seen beautifully written cursive (and even calligraphy) penned in that system of spelling.

By the way: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don't take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)

Kate Gladstone — CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That WorksDirector, the World Handwriting ContestCo-Designer, BETTER LETTERS handwriting trainer app for iPhone/iPadhttp://www.HandwritingThatWork...

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