Facebook Twitter

Ask an Expert: Why don’t teachers focus on teaching cursive?

Q. When did cursive writing become a thing of the past? My son’s school does not make a point to teach cursive and the city has removed it from its curriculum. Our children are being cheated out of proper writing techniques and fine motor skills. Today’s kids’ handwriting is rather scary. How do we bring this important skill back to the schools? – Caroline of Denver

A. I really thought you had hit on something important: motor skill differences between girls and boys.  I was wrong.  I took your question to an elementary education expert and published author, Ann Trunnell Herrell, who happens to be my wife.  I turned to my right at the kitchen table and said, “Ann, what happened to teaching cursive in schools?”  This is what I learned.

There has, indeed, been a shift away from teaching daily 30 to 60 minute lessons in handwriting.  On the long list of content areas  in each subject that must be taught at any given grade level, handwriting has certainly slipped in priority.  If you are in a school district that has removed “handwriting” from the list of content requirements, it may have been embedded into the overall curriculum – across subjects – as a skill that is taught as needed.

In some school districts it is still taught in short lessons, and in a very prescriptive way tied to a child’s stage of development. In my wife’s school, and many others, they use a program called “Handwriting Without Tears.”  Kindergarteners construct physical models of letters.  Then might come printing uppercase letters, and then integrating lowercase letters. Third-graders learn cursive writing, and, most importantly, how to read cursive.  At whatever level, though, the focus on handwriting is neatness and legibility, not artistry.

The skill that has opened learning up for students to the world is keyboarding. It is now considered a priority for all students to know and be able to do. Whether creating, researching, or texting (who talks on a phone anymore?) the keyboard has become the handwriting and voice for the digital generation.

The days of type-like printing, like the handwriting of my college biology professor, or beautifully artistic cursive, like my mother’s writing, are not a priority in schools anymore.  Some private and charter schools still invest time in handwriting, I am told.  When students do handwrite something, it is expected that it be neat and legible.  If an assignment is a long-term project it is expected that it be word-processed.  That is the new priority.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.