The Pen is Mightier than the Sword and Cursive Writing as Mighty as Technology
Years ago every school in the United States believed cursive writing played a key role in literacy. The idea of not teaching cursive wasn’t even a consideration. Some schools today, however, don’t teach cursive writing because they claim it’s not necessary in today’s technical world. They instead say basic printing and keyboarding are more important. If pushed into further conversation, these same schools mention the real reason is due to time. With all the material teachers have to teach, and most for State exams, something has to go. One of those somethings is cursive writing. Interestingly, of the schools who’ve stopped teaching cursive writing, many now teach it again. In April 2013, www.DistrictAdministration.com, a publication known for keeping its fingers on the pulse of education cited “the movement [as] growing.” Since a summit by educators and leaders, a number of states are re-enacting the teaching of cursive writing in their schools. Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina, and Georgia are just a few. As one teacher reports, “Despite the growth in technology, we are always going to need to know how to write by hand” (www.DistrictAdministration.com). Research, studies, and students themselves reveal why cursive not becoming obsolete, nor is keyboarding more efficient than cursive writing. Knowing how to cursive write is important and the benefits too high to ignore. Writing in “cursive brings thought to another level: there’s something about a pen on paper that makes learning better” says Kathleen Wright, a national handwriting product manager for Zaner-Bloser and she was a sponsor for the American Association of School Administrators. Although there are numerous reasons to continue or continue or to teach cursive, the big ones are how the skill helps students perform better and faster, raises their self-esteem, and provides voice throughout their lifetime. These reasons all point to schools teaching cursive writing in America.
The first big reason to teach cursive writing is tied to literacy, which means reading and writing. Literacy allows for and continues voice and voice is tied to freedom. When people are able to read, they know what others have said in the past and in the present. When people are able to write, their thoughts and opinions can be recorded and shared. Literacy means communicating. Literacy allows people to read documents, which are tied to understanding rights and freedoms. The Declaration of Independence (read in print) for example, isn’t written in print. It is written in
cursive. Not being able to read The Declaration of Independence could eventually lead to government control and possible deception of American citizens. In Blazer’s article “Should Cursive Handwriting Still be Taught in Schools?” he quotes Wolfe, who wrote about job candidates and their inability to read cursive in 2009. Wolfe states “The first edge of a gigantic wave of U.S. students graduating from high school who no longer get much handwriting instruction in the primary grades is just hitting the workplace. Not only will these students struggle with cursive handwriting, they can’t read it either.” If students can’t read cursive in the workplace, they may not be able to get a job or read The Declaration of Independence either. “They could compromise the accuracy of future historical research” says Gordon (2009) in Blazer’s article “Should Cursive Handwriting Still Be Taught in Schools?” (Information Capsule 2). Do we trust our government to make citizens aware of their rights, especially if citizens can’t read foundational documents which spell them out?
The second big reason to teach cursive writing in schools is the skill aides in reading development, communication, and in fine motor skills. Print writing contains letters which are frequently confused. Take lower case b and d for example. “[Wi]th cursive, a b starts like an l, and a d starts like an a” (Blumenfeld 27). “The confusion could carr[y] over to the reading process” (27). Knowing how to read means being aware, knowing, communicating. When Adamson and Hellige conducted their study on right and left brain hemisphere asymmetry, one area they concentrated on was identification with cursive and print. Among other helpful findings, they also discovered “two patients performed better when reading cursive than when reading print. These experiments illustrate important differences between print and handwritten cursive, differences that merit additional investigation to refine our understanding of the brain mechanisms that underlie processing of visually presented letters, words, and non-words” (Adamson and Hellige). When students are able to recognize words, they read better and consequently perform better, not to mention their ability to communicate heightened.
The third big reason to teach cursive writing is that it raises students’ grades. “[M]ultiple studies found neatly written papers receive higher marks than papers with messy handwriting” says Blazer in his piece “Should Cursive Handwriting Still Be Taught in Schools?” His research on Gordon and Graham’s work in 2009 goes on to suggest “papers written in cursive (rather than in print, block or manuscript style) also “receive higher marks,” especially in SAT scores.
Consider the possibility cursive writing’s strength comes from its aide to cognitive development. Cursive skill seems to “train the brain to learn functional specialization” with a “capacity for optimal efficiency” (Klemm). If “multiple areas of the brain become co-activated during learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice” (Klemm), doesn’t learning cursive mean that integrating “sensation, movement-control, and thinking” (Klemm) is not occurring without it? These are tied to Kinesthetic intelligence, which means body and movement. For a large population of students, they are kinesthetic learners and physical is their best way to learn. For example, they are the ones who learn better through doing. Instead of a kinesthetic learner seeing 1 + 1 = 2, give them one block and have them add another so they see and handle the blocks instead. They will then understand that one block plus one block equals two blocks. When studies reveal at least half of the populations is kinesthetic learners, this is worth noting.
Dr. David Sortino conducted a study with his special education students who often are kinesthetic learners. In his piece “Brain research and cursive writing,” he points out “the cerebellum [is] considered responsible for the development and management of motor skills, such as running, skipping, etc. However, recent studies indicate the cerebellum also acts to support limbic (emotional) functions such as attention, impulse control and cognitive processes located in the frontal lobe” (Sortino). When the cerebellum is supported and connected like this, certain tasks can be performed automatically so other mental activities can be concentrated on (Sortino). Numerous special education students have difficulty controlling certain parts of their bodies and for them overcoming these challenges are life-changing. Rand Nelson of Peterson Directed Handwriting found cursive handwriting “acts as a building block rather than a stressor” toward control where “synapses and symmetry between left and right hemispheres” of the brain occur. Sortino points out this is absent with the act of printing and with keyboarding.
The fourth big reason to teach cursive is many students want to learn how. Any teacher or parent knows students with self-drive to learn is hard to come by. If a student is driven, even excited about learning, why on earth would we not provide opportunity? Students who learn cursive are shown to have increased self-confidence too. “As a result,” says Asherson in her piece on “The Benefits of Cursive Go Beyond Writing” (The New York Times) states “the physical act of writing cursive leads to increased comprehension and participation.” She adds “The College Board found students who wrote in cursive for the essay portion of the SAT scored slightly higher than those who printed.” This reveals cursive writing makes a positive difference. Students enjoy the skill; they like the speed, and as a result perform better. When they perform better, they feel good about themselves, when they feel good about themselves, there are less behavior problems. What about another frustrated populace, left-handed students? It’s important too to note that if left-handed children are taught print before cursive writing, says Blumenfeld (Phonics program author), they get into a set habit of writing using the “hook.” They keep their paper “in a straight up position,” but if first taught cursive, these left-handers turn their paper “in an extreme clockwise position so the child can write from the bottom up.”
Cursive writing is not becoming obsolete and irrelevant and typing and keyboarding isn’t more efficient. There are many reasons for all schools in America to teach the skill, but the biggest involve students’ higher performance, self-esteem, and provides voice throughout their lifetime. Americans value their freedom, their right to know, which is tied to literacy. In turn, literacy allows for communication and awareness. Ben Franklin realized the pen is mightier than the sword and if alive today, would believe as mighty as technology. “Despite the growth of technology, we are always going to need to know how to write by hand” (Chaffer). What if technology broke down? We would still need to be good at communicating. Besides, businesses cite communication skills as a huge factor in hiring. When students all receive higher grades in school and are more enthusiastic as well, they eventually become productive citizens with jobs who make sure the government maintains their rights, whether they’re special needs students or those who write with their left hand. Together, cursive writing and technology make Americans mightier than the sword, well-informed, well-prepared, skilled communicators, and happily self-driven.
Adamson, Maheen M. and Hellige, Joseph B. “Hemispheric differences in processinghandwritten cursive.” Brain and Language Vol. 102, Issue 3, pp. 215-227 September 2007.
Asherson, Suzanne Baruch. “The Benefits of Cursive Go Beyond Writing.” New York Times April 30, 203. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/04/30/should-schools-require-children-to- learn-cursive/the-benefits-of-cursive-go-beyond-writing
Blazer, Christie. “Should Cursive Handwriting Still Be Taught in Schools?” Information Capsule Research Services Vol 0916 pp. 1-8. March 2010.
Blumfield, Sam. “How to Tutor: The Benefits of Cursive Writing.” Practical Homeschooling. Jan/Feb. 2005. www.Home-School.com. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.
Cahill, Susan M. “Where Does Handwriting Fit In? Strategies to Support Academic Achievement.”Intervention in School and Clinic Vol 44, Issue 4, pp. 223 – 228 March 2009.
DistrictAdministration.com. Curriculum Update. “Keeping Cursive in the Classroom.” pp. 29. April 2013.
Joseph B. Hellige, Maheen M. Adamson. “Hemispheric differences in processing handwritten cursive.” Brain and Language Vol 102, Issue 3,pp. 215-227. September 2007.
“Keeping Cursive In The Classroom.” District Administration 49.4 (2013): 29. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
Klemm, William D.V.M., Ph.D. “Memory Medic: What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain.” Psychology Today pp. 1-3. March 2013. http://web.archive.org Web. 14 Feb. 2017.
Sortino, David. Ph.D. “Brain research and cursive writing.” The Press Democrat pp. 1-6. May 22 2013. http://davidsortino.blogs.pressdomocrat.com