Washington State’s Cursive Bill

roachSenator Pam Roach introduced a bill last week in Olympia that would require schools to teach cursive writing. According to her, reading and writing in cursive is “part of being an American.” I don’t know about that, but as a third and fourth grade teacher with over thirty years’ experience, I do know a lot about cursive writing.

And what I know tells me that this bill is doomed. At least I hope it is.

First of all, I’m not sure cursive writing is all it’s cracked up to be. If it was, why aren’t we all using it? Why, for example, doesn’t Pam Roach herself use cursive when she signs her name? (Scroll down about one-third of the page.) I think it’s a nostalgia thing, associated with a simpler time, etc. From my experience, people learn cursive and then stop using it. Because they want to.

Especially people like me, who are left handed. The whole point of cursive, as I understand it, is to let the writing “flow across the page.” But when you’re pushing your pencil (as we do) instead of pulling it (the way the rest of you do) there’s nothing flowing at all about cursive.

Then there’s the main issue most teachers have with bills like this: TIME. Teaching cursive – teaching anything – takes time. And the last thing we have right now is time. Actually, most of us are trying to figure out how to squeeze in keyboarding practice. Partly because the tests our students take are computer-based, but mostly because everything else our students do in the future will be.

But my main issue with this bill is more complicated. A skill like cursive can be taught at a certain grade level (third, most likely) but then what? In order for that skill to be retained, it has to be reinforced from then on. In other words, teachers from fourth through twelfth need to review cursive writing. Not only that, cursive has to be required. Teachers have to make their students write in cursive.

If cursive writing isn’t reviewed and required at every grade level after it was first taught, the whole exercise was a waste of time. Pam Roach’s bill, if passed, would force school districts to include a cursive component the next time they purchase literacy materials. Which means it might force third grade teachers to use those materials. And third grade teachers, being the subordinate souls they are, would probably comply.

It would not, however, force the rest of the teaching force to review and require cursive writing. They would, of course, if they wanted to. If they felt it was important enough. But trust me; they don’t.

I hope Roach’s bill fails. I hate to see time and money wasted. I do see a certain value in cursive; I teach my students how to read it and how to um…sign their names with it.

But beyond that, I think we’re wasting our time.

5 thoughts on “Washington State’s Cursive Bill

  1. Pingback: Washington State’s Cursive Bill on Stories From Sc… | EducatorAl's Tweets

  2. Kate Gladstone

    The Washington state senator who’s crusading to require cursive (Pam Roach) publicly admits that her own handwriting’s illegible.
    She also publicly states that it is not entirely cursive either.

    She broadcast this on January 25, on Washington’s KVI radio (second hour of the “Kirby” talk-radio show) 19 minutes, 20-through-45 seconds, into that second hour (in the middle of a segment on her bill).

    The segment runs from 13 minutes 49 seconds through 21 minutes 4 seconds of that recorded hour, which you can hear on the Internet: http://kvi.com/podcast/kirbycast-january-25th-hour-2

    Why should an illegible writer hold forth on the subject of handwriting instruction — particularly when her aim is to mandate (for millions of her fellow citizens) a way of writing that she does not follow herself?

    Still, she has a point. Handwriting matters. Reading cursive matters — but does writing cursive matter? Research shows that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are available on request.)

    Further research shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive. They join only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving others unjoined, using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree. Teaching material for such practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where this is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive that too many North American educators venerate. (Again, sources are available on request.)

    Reading cursive — which still matters — is much easier and quicker to master than writing cursive. Reading cursive can be mastered in just 30 to 60 minutes, even by kids who print.
    There’s even a free iPad app teaching how: called “Read Cursive.” Given the importance of reading cursive, why not teach it explicitly and quickly, for free, instead of leaving this vital skill to depend upon learning to write in cursive?

    Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by cursive textbook publisher Zaner-Bloser.. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. Most — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.

    When even most handwriting teachers do not follow cursive, why glorify it?

    Cursive’s cheerleaders allege that cursive has benefits justifying absolutely anything said or done to promote it. Cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly allege research support — repeatedly citing studies that were misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant or by some other, earlier misrepresenter whom the claimant innocently trusts.

    What about cursive and signatures? Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

    Questioned document examiners (specialists in the identification of signatures, verification of documents, etc.) find that the least forgeable signatures are plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if following cursive’s rules at all, are fairly complicated: easing forgery.

    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual. That is how any first-grade teacher immediately discerns (from print-writing on unsigned work) which child produced it.

    Mandating cursive to save handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to save clothing.

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works

  3. Jan Kragen

    And haven’t we beat this horse to, I don’t know … death?

    As a fifth grade teacher, I would love it if my students arrived holding their pens and pencils well instead of in a death grip. I cringe to think of the carpal tunnel syndrome down the road. Or if they came forming their letters efficiently and clearly instead of writing letters backwards or with extra looping or what almost looks like upside down.

    For many students it seems like they learned to write long before they got to school, and their instruction amounted to: “Here is a picture of the letter. Make your letter look like this.” They figured out a way, however bizarre their way might have been for each letter. By age ten or eleven, their ways are pretty well entrenched.

    When they have to write for any extended period, it’s no wonder they get worn out! They never learned how to write without overtaxing their muscles!

    And Tom, you are right. I used to teach calligraphy, but who has time now? I start teaching keyboarding at the beginning of the year. But as I watch my 34-year-old daughter text with two thumbs, and as I Swype my messages, I wonder how important home-row keyboarding skills will be in the near future.

  4. Pingback: What’s the deal with cursive? | learningatsunnycrest

Comments are closed.