Cursive Writing Mandated in Public Schools, Making a Comeback

In 2016, California Democratic state Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva joined then-California Gov. Jerry Brown for an event where he signed baseball-type cards featuring the image of his dog, Colusa.

However, many recipients of the cards struggled to read his cursive signature, which left the Democratic governor disheartened. Quirk-Silva, a former teacher, recounted that Brown told her, “You have to bring back cursive writing.”

After seven years of persistence, Quirk-Silva finally achieved her goal.

Last month, the California legislature unanimously passed a law, signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, requiring the teaching of cursive or “joined italics” handwriting in grades one through six.

When many younger people think of cursive, they may envision their grandparents’ sprawling handwriting on birthday cards or cherished family recipes. However, some educators today believe it is a valuable skill to revive, especially in an era when children spend countless hours on their smartphones. Yet, others argue that students already have too many subjects to master and that their focus should be on keyboarding skills instead.

Quirk-Silva mentioned that some California teachers were already teaching cursive, but typically not in underresourced schools.

She made the case for cursive, emphasizing its value in reading historical documents, improving writing speed, and acting as a safeguard to ensure students are not relying on artificial intelligence for their written work.

Teaching cursive in public schools declined after the adoption of the Common Core standards, which did not include cursive in the recommended curriculum. Critics of cursive requirements argue that classroom time could be better spent on acquiring new skills such as coding and keyboarding. Quirk-Silva recalled that some younger lawmakers even deemed the looping writing style as “old-fashioned.”

Nevertheless, supporters have witnessed recent successes in bringing cursive back, citing studies that suggest a connection between cursive and cognitive abilities. These studies indicate that cursive can aid in reading and writing disabilities like dyslexia and dysgraphia.

In May, New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill mandating the teaching of cursive and multiplication tables in schools.

Over the past decade, more than 20 states have implemented state directives requiring cursive education, as reported by Connie Slone, founder of MyCursive.com, a company that provides cursive learning materials to educators.

Other states, although not enforcing cursive as a requirement, encourage its teaching without specific mandates, according to the cursive instructional vendor, Zaner-Bloser company.

However, critics skeptical of teaching cursive argue that there isn’t substantial evidence to support its importance. Morgan Polikoff, an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California, stated that “keyboarding skills are more important” when considering written communication. Polikoff expressed minimal interest in cursive as an educational policy, especially considering the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, chronic absenteeism, and the crisis in student mental health.

This year in Indiana, the legislature and governor modified a bill that initially required cursive education, altering it to mandate a study on the use of cursive in public schools. An education department report on the matter is due by December 1.

Several states, including Colorado, Minnesota, and Washington, have introduced cursive bills over the past few years, but none were taken up, as per Slone.

Advocates of cursive frequently reference the late William Klemm, a neuroscience professor at Texas A&M University, who argued a decade ago in Psychology Today that learning cursive aids cognitive development. Klemm contended that cursive trains the brain for optimal efficiency and specialization.

A study published in 2019 by PLOS One and listed in the National Library of Medicine found increasing evidence that mastering handwriting skills plays a pivotal role in academic achievement.

Furthermore, a 2020 study conducted by Norwegian researchers established a direct correlation between “writing by hand” and synchronized brain activity in a specific region responsible for memory and information encoding. The study recommended the teaching of all writing forms – printing, cursive, and typing – to enhance cognitive development and learning efficiency.

Suzanne McLeod, coordinator of educational leadership at Binghamton University in New York, explained that cursive became widely used during the quill pen-and-ink era before the 1800s. This development was predominantly due to the tendency of quill pens to blot when lifted off the page. As a result, centuries of historical documents are written in cursive, and historians must be able to read it for original research.

In Michigan, Democratic state Rep. Brenda Carter successfully guided a bill through the state House this year that encouraged cursive education, although it remained non-compulsory. Carter reported minimal opposition to the bill, but it was not considered by the state Senate before adjournment.

Nonetheless, Carter remains hopeful about garnering support from GOP members, especially since the state Department of Education backs the measure.

Carter expressed concern that young people are missing out on valuable knowledge, particularly since all founding documents are written in cursive. She raised the question: “Where is our history if we can’t read this? Are we depriving future generations of our history?”