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The case for cursive

June 28, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Is cursive obsolete? Are today's kids learning how to write cursive at all in school?

I was a little surprised when a witness in the Trayvon Martin case testified yesterday that she is unable to read or write cursive. Apparently, she had asked a friend to write a letter to Martin's mother for her and dictated the words, but was unable to read the actual letter when asked to do so in court. Based on a story in the New York Times earlier this year, apparently teachers don't consider it necessary to teach cursive any longer and most kids under 20 probably can't write it or read it.

I remember learning how to write cursive in the second grade and taking great pride in choosing the way I would learn to write an "E." I picked the old-fashioned curlycue version rather than the more standard E and that's the way I still write it. But, like most adults, according to that Times story, my everyday writing is a mixture of print and cursive. As a reporter, I probably still do more handwriting than the vast majority of people, who do everything with computers these days. I still carry a notebook and a pen to take notes at meetings and interviews. But I can't remember the last time I wrote an actual handwritten letter and I sign my name to exactly one check a month. It would be less than that if my rental company didn't refuse to take a debit card.

Still, cursive is one of those things I think still ought to be taught for the sake of tradition. Kids who can't read cursive also won't be able to read old letters or old historic documents, which bodes ill for their education. They also could end up embarrassing themselves in a court of law, as the witness did yesterday. I tend to think it's a good study aid, too. When I was struggling with a subject like geology, my preferred study method was to recopy my notes and the relevant text in the book over and over and over in a notebook until it sunk into my tired brain. Somehow, I don't think typing words into an iPad would have the same impact.

What do you think? Should they still teach cursive in school?


Article Comments



Sep-11-13 11:23 PM

Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Research sources on request.)

Reading cursive matters — and even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. (In fact, today there's even an iPad app to teach how: named "Read Cursive," of course.) So why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, including some handwriting style that's actually typical of effective handwriters?

Adults abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote cursive; 8% printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a style between those 2 extr

Jul-05-13 11:00 AM

In Minot schools cursive is taught in early grade school and a refresher course is also done in 5th grade. However, with typing everything on computers and emailing instead of writing letters - cursive is not used very much by students. One of the results of computers being used all the time.


Jul-02-13 11:12 AM

I don't think I ever did use the cursive letter Q and I'd have to look it up to remember what it looks like.

One study showed that kids do better in school when they're taught cursive. There's probably something about the complexity of the handwriting or the curved letters that stimulates brain development in a way that printing doesn't. It certainly also helps with fine motor skills. I found that writing a passage over and over in cursive was a good way to commit the facts to memory when I was studying for a test. It's the only way I succeeded in passing college level geology.


Jul-01-13 10:53 PM

Cursive helps with fine motor skills. I agree with raj on this.


Jul-01-13 3:56 PM

Linguists call Ebonics "African American Vernacular English" and say that it has its own grammatical rules. It's an English dialect like others, though this one has less status than standard English. Best practices for teaching kids from a minority dialect is to teach them how to "code switch," perhaps by showing them how to say something in their home dialect and then how to say the same thing in standard English, as well as discussing the appropriate situations to use each dialect in. This girl, as well as having a poor courtroom demeanor, apparently was not very good at "code switching." It doesn't necessarily mean that there's something wrong with the language she uses. She apparently also speaks Creole and Spanish and her family is from Haiti.


Jul-01-13 1:06 PM

Ebonics/jive FTW. Gnome sane


Jul-01-13 8:33 AM

Thank goodness both of my kids, the 24 yr old and the 15 yr old read and write cursive. I can see why it may die out, though, given all our technology.


Jul-01-13 2:53 AM

I have no idea how many schools this applies to. The Times article seemed to suggest it's out of fashion to teach cursive. I don't think it's a case of Rachel Jeantel simply being poorly educated. Lots of kids in her age group apparently don't read or write cursive.

Jul-01-13 12:53 AM

I don't think she was making a blanket statement, she was referring to the article in the New York Times. maybe you need to read her story again


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