Cursive remains a generational battleground issue

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor

Making cursive mandatory again for grade school learners is the aim of a bill introduced in the Ohio legislature, the Associate Press reports.

Republican Reps. Andrew Brenner and Marilyn Slaby, who authored the bill, want students to show they can use script by the end of fifth grade.

More than two years ago, in December 2014, we published a piece titled “The curse of cursive: How handwriting is fading from schools.”

It was based on complaints among our readers that cursive isn’t part of Ohio’s core curriculum — a point that riled some parents and especially older residents. “Once upon a time, people couldn’t get hired at jobs if they couldn’t write or sign their names. This country is going backward,” wrote Diane Dorus, representative of most commenters on the topic.

To learn about its place in schools, we talked to Amherst third grade math teacher Julie Hammond, who set aside 15 minutes twice a week to teach handwriting. We talked to Oberlin elementary principal Jim Eibel, who said it’s still important enough to teach, even though the emphasis isn’t as great as a decade prior. We talked to Wellington elementary principal Jill Beiser, who pushed for cursive instruction to start in second grade — it was Beiser who enthused about the link between using script and how the brain learns to read, citing a 2007 report by the Child Study Center at New York University.

While cursive may benefit cognitive development, its physiological merits aren’t among the common arguments I’ve heard and read from folks who don’t work in education.

Vivian Blevins, a professor at Edison State Community College, wrote a column recently for one of our company’s newspapers. She asked her students what they thought about cursive and found the answers to be clearly generational.

Arguments against its use were:

• It’s not necessary with today’s technology.

• There are stamps for signatures.

• Schools require all papers to be typed.

• Younger teachers would need to be trained in how to teach it.

• It’s not a good use of class time in a competitive global environment with a focus on math, science, and technology.

• Parents can’t help their kids because they don’t know how to write in cursive.

Arguments in favor of cursive were:

• It’s neater, more elegant, more professional.

• It requires more discipline, gives time to think, and uses more brain function.

• It prepares students for the times when they will need to read cursive.

• It’s necessary to sign checks and legal documents.

That last one is a common plea from the pro-cursive crowd, and is often tied to the gradual demise of the signature. Learning to sign your name was one of the Baby Boomers’ coming-of-age rites, a way to express personality, to define yourself as you entered adulthood.

But any banker will tell you signatures are overrated, or as the BBC put it: “The signature is in retreat. Chip and pin, contactless payments, biometrics — all make it theoretically redundant. All, say advocates, are safer, more secure, and harder to forge.” While you may have to put your signature on a restaurant bill, a mortgage, or tax forms, it’s not that effective. Signatures are more of a custom than a security feature, a holdover of a pre-digital way of doing business.

Most of the strong support for cursive that I’ve seen, however, has been based on a very simple notion: “I learned cursive in school, so my child should too.” I think people feel the phase-out of cursive is a personal affront, a symbol of their waning social capital in a world increasingly leaving old ways behind.

I’m interested in what you think about cursive.

Should it stay or should it be left by the wayside to make time for other lessons?

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor