When most state educational leaders adopted the Common Core educational standards over the last few years, cursive writing requirements were omitted from the new learning goals.
Penmanship classes were excluded from Common Core Language Arts standards for a host of reasons, including the undeniable need for children in a digitally-focused generation to master computer keyboarding and the cost of providing professional development and developing standards for teachers to provide appropriate cursive instruction at each grade level.
Of course, schools could teach cursive writing if they wished, but in the world of education where classroom time is limited and performance stakes are high, optional offerings tend to be forgotten in lieu of what’s required. Since these skills were basically deemed unnecessary in the new standards, parents who desired that their students learn cursive would have to turn to a private tutoring service or other instructional methods.
However, all of that is about to change for students in Alabama. State legislators recently passed a law that requires all public and charter schools begin teaching cursive to students by third grade and continue through 12th grade. Arkansas lawmakers passed a law mandating handwriting instruction last year, and several other states including Virginia, California, and Florida already have similar requirements in their state’s English education standards.
State Rep. Dickie Drake, the cursive law’s sponsor, says the new law is about making sure Alabama students know how to perform important life tasks, such as signing their name.
Beth Mizell, the Louisiana state senator who introduced the cursive writing bill in her state, said that as a grandmother she was shocked to find out that students were no longer learning cursive in school. She decided to take action when she met a surveyor who couldn’t find young people capable of reading notes on old land documents.
Educators advocating for a cursive comeback cite recent studies that indicate the hand motions employed when writing in cursive deeply engages the brain, enhances hand-eye coordination and develops fine motor skills. These studies have also found that cursive writing gives kids a better idea of how words work in combination, which in turn improves reading, writing, and cognition skills.
Handwriting advocates further argue that future scholars will lose the ability to interpret valuable cultural resources, such as historical documents and ancestors’ letters and journals, if they can’t read cursive.
On the other hand, historian Tamara Plakins Thornton sees the new cursive laws as more of a way that lawmakers can advocate for what they see as traditional values in a time of social unrest. She says the battle over teaching cursive in schools is not new, and in the ’50s and ’60s the teaching of cursive was even linked to our country’s competition with Russia during the Cold War.
For now, teachers in Alabama will be implementing new guidelines that satisfy both Common Core standards and the new cursive law. Even as keyboard-fueled communication extends its dominance, politicians, parents, and educators like our credentialed reading and writing tutors continue to evaluate the handwritten word and its relevance to young students.