Why we should teach cursive writing to all kids
When Jack Lew was nominated to be Treasury secretary in 2013, President Barack Obama joked that as a condition of the appointment, Lew would have to learn to sign his name more legibly. The secretary’s signature, after all, was going to appear on US currency.
Lew, a New Yorker, was a city public-school student. And now the school system that produced him is hoping to iron out that particular wrinkle for any future potential Treasury secretary: New York is bringing back cursive instruction.
Thanks to our education system, few Americans are learning cursive, and thus, are unable to legibly sign their own names. As the federal government has become more involved in the day-to-day workings of the American classroom, a focus on test prep has become teachers’ main objective. That means useful skills that fall outside the testing pattern often are neglected.
Which is what makes a decision last week from the New York City Department of Education so refreshing. When federal education standards called Common Core were adopted by the city, penmanship classes were dropped. But the current instructional handbook includes a manual for teaching cursive, and according to NBC4, many schools have already begun to implement cursive instruction.
They should be cheered for it — even if they don’t grasp just why it’s so important.
In a statement last week, Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island assemblywoman who pushed for the change, said the reason to add cursive was so that students would “know how to write a signature of their own to identify themselves, and have the ability to sign a legal document, check or voter-registration form.”
But this policy change is actually more beneficial for the students than school officials appear to realize. Learning how to write cursive isn’t just useful for its own sake — as valuable as it is to be able to sign one’s own name.
As the city Department of Education rightly pointed out, “evidence reveals an advantage for handwriting using pen and paper over keyboarding for students in grades 2 to 6 for amount written, rate of word writing, and number of ideas expressed.”
In other words: Kids were better at processing information when doing so by handwriting as opposed to typing.
In addition, scientific research (and common sense) indicates learning how to write cursive helps the development of motor skills. Writing for Psychology Today, Dr. William Klemm explains, “The benefits to brain development are similar to what you get with learning to play a musical instrument.”
These benefits apply to writing more generally and cursive specifically, according to Klemm.
That’s because in “cursive writing, compared to printing . . . the movement tasks are more demanding, the letters are less stereotypical and the visual-recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation.”
Yes, kids could use a computer and type more legibly than they can write. But the end product is just as important as the lesson itself. Test prep and academic pressure are increasingly crowding out previously essential classes like music, art and physical education. Recess has been shortened considerably for children compared to their parents’ generation, as has instruction in subjects not considered “core curriculum.”
There’s a larger point here: Cursive writing is far from an exception. Teachers and school administrators have learned both through studies and their own experience that, for example, the erosion of recess time has negative effects on student behavior and performance, never mind happiness. Activities tossed overboard for their perceived frivolity turned out to have a point.
Reverting to older methods of education isn’t the “hipsterization” of the classroom. Instead, it’s educators merely casting off prior poorly researched and executed trends in education.
The New York City Department of Education might have taken only a small step in that reversion with its decision to restart cursive instruction, but parents should cheer it nonetheless. Perhaps it’s the beginning of a curriculum counterrevolution that will restore a sense of balance to children’s education.
And if not, well — at least future Treasury secretaries from New York will be able to sign our currency with pride.
Bethany Mandel, a stay-at-home mom, is a senior contributor to The Federalist.