Cursive writing has come under attack in recent years for being old-fashioned, irrelevant, and unnecessary. Many schools have dropped it from their curriculum, choosing instead to focus on the rudimentary skills of printing and typing.
As the debate ebbs and flows and schools decide whether to continue to teach this age-old skill, it is worth considering the inherent value of the cursive script.
Some U.S. lawmakers are recognizing the value of cursive. Last year, Louisiana passed a senate bill that requires students to learn cursive writing. It will go into effect this fall and students will need to obtain some level of proficiency in handwriting. Five other states are proposing similar bills.
Meanwhile, decision-makers in Ontario and Quebec have pulled cursive writing from the curriculum. Other provinces may follow suit.
With over-burdened teachers trying to balance the ever-shifting needs of their students and with the proliferation of computers and tablets in the classroom, it’s not surprising cursive writing has fallen out of favour in recent years.
To write with any competency in a cursive style requires a steady hand and active engagement in spelling, sentence structure, and grammar. Without a delete button there’s a much smaller margin for error, and cursive requires one very important but disappearing skill—the ability to slow down and think. Someone who can produce a grammatically correct letter in the cursive style has mastered a skill that allows them to put thoughts to paper in a considered and careful way.
Although this flies in the face of our modern obsession with time and efficiency, it does make for a more well-rounded individual.
According to studies, cursive writing engages both cerebral hemispheres, and brain scans during handwriting show activation of large regions of the brain involved in thinking, language, and memory. A different set of cognitive muscles is being developed and reinforced and the neural pathways responsible for writing serve more than the written result itself. Using a keyboard doesn’t engage the brain to nearly the same extent.
Cursive promotes an expression of individuality in an era of digital anonymity. Cursive script is unique to the person, absolutely distinguishable and unmistakable—as identifiable as a fingerprint.
One could argue that our modern age is all about individualism and that there is no need to carry on an outdated tradition that serves little practical use. Our over-sharing culture has given us the illusion that our self-expression is being exercised every time we tweet, blog, or post. This is true in a sense, but wantonly expressing our thoughts is a different exercise than crafting a sentence, paragraph, or story.
Working in a digital medium will continue to be omnipresent in the education system and its development won’t need to be stressed as much. It’s the soft skills of human interaction and cognitive development that will serve as antidotes to an overly plugged-in population.
Much like poetry—a once-prominent art form that has had difficulty finding its place in the modern world—cursive will need to adapt to the times, but it would be a mistake to dismiss it entirely.
As part of our effort to raise thoughtful, well-rounded human beings and not just processors of information, the cursive writing style has its place. It develops patience, intention, and thoughtfulness—skills that can be hard to come by in our modern times.
Ryan Moffatt is a Vancouver-based arts reporter, musician, and pop-culture pundit.