Reading & Literacy

A Farewell to Cursive? Indiana Ends Requirement

By Erik W. Robelen — July 12, 2011 3 min read
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A recent news story highlighting Indiana’s decision to eliminate a requirement that public schools teach cursive has been generating considerable web buzz. In fact, the item and discussion about it has showed up not only across a variety of U.S. blogs and news sources, but also on blogs in Canada, the United Kingdom, and even New Zealand.

Suffice to say the article struck a nerve, though it has produced divided opinions about whether teaching cursive is anachronistic in the digital age or still deserves attention. The news also has sparked some discussion more broadly about the value of handwriting, and writing legibly, in general.

(Full disclosure: I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I do NOT consider myself cursive literate. I write my name in cursive, but that’s about it, and get thrown off when trying to remember how to write nice capital T’s, S’s and so on.)

Going back to the primary source, here’s the April 25 memo from the Indiana Department of Education. The memo notes that the common-core standards “do not include cursive writing at all. Instead, students are expected to become proficient with keyboarding skills.” It says that the 3rd grade requirement in Indiana’s English/language arts standards will no longer be operational next school year.

“Schools may decide to continue to teach cursive as a local standard, or they may decide to stop teaching cursive next year to focus the curriculum on more important areas,” the memo says.

The story from the Tribune Star newspaper of Terre Haute, Ind., cites one Indiana school district that intends to keep teaching cursive for the time being. The article explains that in the Vigo County district, handwriting is currently part of the elementary curriculum in grades 1, 2, and 3, with cursive handwriting being taught in 3rd grade, said Karen Goeller, deputy superintendent.

“We consider our students’ needs, and right now, we do see a benefit in teaching cursive as part of our curriculum,” Goeller told the Tribune Star.

She also notes that the SAT and Advanced Placement exams call for handwritten essays.

“Speed and legibility are keys to success,” she said.

The Indianapolis Star newspaper also ran a story showing a variety of viewpoints on the Indiana decision.

“I think it’s progressive of our state to be ahead on this,” Denna Renbarger, an assistant superintendent for Lawrence Township schools, told the newspaper. “There are a lot more important things than cursive writing.”

Others weren’t so sure, suggesting that students still need to know how to sign their name in cursive, and that cursive still appears in documents, and students should be able to understand it.

The story also quotes Vanderbilt education professor Steve Graham, a nationally recognized expert on handwriting. Even as he suggests that some of the arguments for cursive are “romantic,” he cautioned that schools have much to consider before halting the teaching of cursive or cutting instructional time for handwriting.

Whether students write in manuscript (block letters) or cursive, that they learn to write legibly is very important, he told the Indianapolis Star, as people often make judgments about others based on their handwriting.

“It’s the same as when people look at a page with lots of spelling errors,” Graham said of illegible handwriting. “People think negatively about what you have to say. They question how smart you are. Teachers won’t muddle through. They start to say to themselves, ‘This is not one of my better students’.”

In fact, the story notes that a study Graham has just completed, but that is not yet published, finds that an “average” composition paper is often rated “poor” by test scorers if the handwriting is of low quality. When the same average paper was written in excellent handwriting, it was routinely rated “above average.”

“I don’t care if it’s cursive or manuscript, you need to be fluent and legible with at least one type of handwriting,” Graham told the Star newspaper, “and you need to be fluent on the keyboard.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.