Cursive writing is becoming an obsolete subject. With a growing emphasis on keyboarding skills for the 21st century tech age, fewer school curriculums and teachers are teaching cursive writing and emphasizing good penmanship in general in America’s classrooms.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the Common Core State Standards, now agreed upon by 45 states, remands cursive writing to an optional subject. Few schools are opting in.
Teachers say students dislike the repetitive practice needed to perfect the loops and twirls that make beautiful handwriting flow across a page. Instead, emphasis is being placed on keyboarding skills with proficiency goals targeted for fourth grade.
Proponents of eliminating cursive say keyboarding and print are the way of the 21st century, since most careers rely on data input which seldom leaves room for or ability to denote information by hand. In other words, speed trumps beauty.
Opponents say students are missing valuable fine motor skill training, working on patience, and producing a product that is attractive, easier to read than printed letters undefined into separate words, and a connection to great documents of the past, all handwritten.
Without cursive writing training, English of the past may become a foreign language. Children will no longer be able to read the Declaration of Independence, or pick out a Hallmark greeting “written” to wish Grandpa a happy birthday.
Would the United States’ road to independence retain the same connection to the bravery and sacrifice of 18th century men if Thomas Jefferson had typed New Times Roman on a tablet screen and printed his stirring words on 8.5 x 11” paper from a big box store? No parchment would need preserving in the National Archives. If the first (or second or 200th) printing faded, then one would just print off another copy.
Although good penmanship may no longer be a job requirement, legibility of signatures still is required for legal and other documents. Doctor are notorious for sloppy signatures, but does that trend toward sloppiness justify that President Obama’s nominee for treasury secretary, Jacob Lew, “sign” his name in a series of loops that resemble a preschool child’s play with crayons?
Typing takes away from the brain the ability to eexercise the right brain- the visual, creative part that connects shapes, sees the big picture, and is frequently connected with artistic excellence. Repetitive typing can cause finger and wrist problems, such as carpal tunnel disease, premature arthritis, an chronic pain.
Smart boards are replacing whiteboards in classrooms, too, so teachers can even eliminate much writing when teaching, again relying on typing to post information students read.
Will eliminating cursive improve education excellence? Will keyboarding skills help employers chose among job seekers? Perhaps not.
Shadmehr and Holcomb of Johns Hopkins University, published a study in Science Magazine showing that their subjects’ brains actually changed in reaction to physical instruction such as cursive handwriting lessons. The researchers provided PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans as evidence of these changes in brain structure. In addition, they also demonstrated that these changes resulted in an “almost immediate improvement in fluency,” which led to later development of neural pathways. As a result of practicing motor skills, the researchers found that knowledge becomes more stable.
Certain physical activities naturally spark various areas of the brain. They still point to the benefits of handwriting that are missing from typing skills alone. Take, for example, the research of Virginia Berninger, an educational psychology professor at the University of Washington.
Berninger claims that because handwriting necessitates physical sequential strokes to form just one letter (as opposed to a single strike in hitting a single key), massive regions in the brain are activated, including areas of thinking, language, and temporary information storage and management. In one of her studies, she demonstrates that children in grades two, four, and six were able to write more words faster and express more ideas when writing essays by hand rather than the keyboard.
Andrea Gordon, writing for ParentCentral in the Toronto Star, writes on cursive writing’s impact on neurological development. Citing the research of Toronto psychiatrist and neuroplasticity expert Dr. Norman Doidge, she says that cursive writing is unique in that, unlike with print handwriting and typing, each letter connects uniquely to the next This is “more demanding on the part of the brain that converts symbol sequences into motor movements in the hand.” Gordon further ties cursive to emotional circuitry according to Dr. Jason Barton’s research at the University of British Columbia.
“His studies…show that while the left visual word form area perceives and decodes words for their meaning in written language, the right side is where we interpret the style of writing, allowing us to identify the writer rather than the word, just as neighboring areas in the right brain play a key role in allowing us to recognize faces. … It activates a memory trace…and fans out, setting off other sensory memories.”
There is even a case for teaching cursive in the classroom before teaching print handwriting. As younger children yet unable to control their fingers in finer movements, cursive—a fluid style of writing compared to the hiccups in print—can act as a building block rather than a stressor in the educational process.
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