To Write or Not to Write – That is the Question?

Do you remember third grade penmanship when you were so proud to learn, “script,” distinguishing you as a learner of grown up writing? Well those days may be all but over.











The Today Show’s Jenna Wolfe recently polled third graders in Nashville, Tenn., to see whether they preferred print or cursive writing. The students were unanimous in voting for print. And typing won hands-down over printing. 

Forty-six states have now adopted Common Core Standards in an effort to concur on common standards and ultimately common assessments. Cursive writing is a casualty of those standards, having been replaced by the contemporary form of writing — keyboarding.  States such as Indiana and Hawaii have begun eliminating cursive writing from the curriculum and others will surely follow suit.  Teachers claim there’s just no time in the day to teach it, but I still have mixed feelings about its demise. 

There will likely be a benefit for students with illegible handwriting. While teachers have maintained that kids weren’t penalized for poor penmanship that was always hard to prove. So cutting it from the curriculum could help those with challenged handwriting and help to level the playing field. Conversely, writing by hand may be important to cognitive development. Students have different learning styles that include forms of expression. Cursive writing gives young people another avenue to express themselves in an individual, authentic, and creative way. 

No one can argue against the value of teaching keyboarding; it’s clearly an essential skill for the 21st century. On the other hand, when children engage in cursive writing there is no machine in between them and their thoughts. They are so tethered to electronic devices nowadays that eliminating cursive writing makes them even more dependent on electronics. And technology is wonderful only when it works. What happens when the computer crashes or the power goes out? 

Cursive writing is faster than printing.  It’s an equalizer that doesn’t require expensive equipment.  Long before the computer — or even the typewriter — the classics were written in longhand. A contemporary example is that of JK Rowling, the author of the spectacularly successful Harry Potter books.  Prior to becoming a bestselling author, she was a struggling single mother who conceived of and wrote her first book entirely by hand. 

It really boils down to what we believe is important for students to learn. For example, a computer program can solve mathematical problems, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want students to learn how to do mathematical calculations by themselves. Some people love to write in longhand. Why remove this choice from our children’s repertoire? 

As a former history teacher, my heart breaks to think that if students don’t learn cursive writing, they will not know how to read it either. Will they be lost in museums and presidential libraries as they are confronted with the great historical documents written in longhand? How are they going to read and appreciate the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, or even their great grandparents’ letters to one another during World War II?

Finally, I am sad to see just one more manifestation of civility lost from our culture. Writing a note in cursive is an expression of caring and cultivation. Jacqueline Kennedy was known for her thoughtful notes. Are thank you, sympathy and congratulatory notes obsolete? It’s hard to argue that e-mails carry the same emotional impact.

And let’s not forget handwriting analysis, which is still an important tool in criminal investigations and employment screening.  The four Today Show anchors – Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, Natalie Morales, and Al Roker – recently had their handwriting analyzed by an expert!

What do you think?