What's The Future Of Cursive Writing?

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The Common Core standards don’t require instruction in cursive writing but some states — including Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana and California — have mandated cursive in public schools.

With typing often replacing writing in so much of our daily lives, will cursive fade away if it's not taught in schools — and does it matter?

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Steve Graham, professor at Arizona State University’s Teachers College, about how important handwriting is.

Interview Highlights

On the death of cursive handwriting

"I've been asked about the death of either handwriting or cursive handwriting for almost 20 years now, and one of my responses is, 'Can you show me where it's buried? I didn't read the obituary.' So I don't think either of these kinds of handwriting are gonna go away, right away. Honestly, handwriting's, you know, paper and pencil, you can carry with you anywhere. But, let's be frank: When we take a look at the writing that people do, both in school, outside of school, at work and for play, much of it today is digitally. So you need to be able to type fluently, as well.

"[Cursive] is going away. It's used less and less today, just as handwriting in general is used less and less. The place where it's most likely to occur now is in schools because we're using 19th century tools for writing instead of 21st century tools."

On teaching handwriting in schools

"I'm not opposed to teaching cursive. I think we need to teach one style of handwriting really well, so that's it legible and it can be produced fluently. That could be cursive, but it could also be manuscript, or italics. Doesn't make a lot of sense, in my opinion, to teach two different forms of handwriting that basically serve the same goal. ...That goal is to be able to produce text that can be read easily by your audience, and it's also to be able to produce text that can be — or handwriting that can be done quickly and automatically so it doesn't interfere with other writing processes."

On the benefits and advantages of different forms of writing, including typing

"There's no clear advantage to teaching cursive over teaching, say, manuscript or italics. In all of those cases, they can be produced about equally well legibly, and at the same speed.

"We're gonna see less and less of handwriting as time goes on, but I don't think its epitaph is written yet."

Steve Graham

"When you're working on a keyboard, there are a number of advantages. And one of those is is that if you're using word processing, you can move texts around very easily. Often you have other programs like spell check or a grammar checker that are built in there that provide you with some help as a writer. And, there's actually considerable evidence to show that if we have kids write by hand or write on word processing, over about a six-month period, kids get better as writers when they're working with word processing."

"There's no real evidence that you remember information better whether you type it or whether you write in cursive or manuscript. However, there is some evidence that when you write out notes, from a lecture, that there may be some advantages to doing it by hand versus doing it on a word processor, simply because when you're doing it by hand it's easier to show the connections between ideas. And so that's an advantage, at this point, for handwriting."

On the future ... writing, typing and beyond

"We're seeing a shifting landscape in terms of how one can compose. And, I think smartphones are a good example of this. If you look around, you see a lot of people talking to their smartphones. So we're going directly from speech to text, which bypasses both typing, or using your thumbs, or using your hands, to produce text messages. And so we're gonna see more and more of that.

"It's not a concern for me, but it is important to realize that each one of these tools has its strengths and limitations. And so something like speech to text means you're more likely to speak extemporaneously, or off the top of your head, and forego, and, you know, speech isn't exactly the same as writing something down."

"We're gonna see less and less of handwriting as time goes on, but I don't think its epitaph is written yet. I think it'll still be around for a good while."

This segment aired on December 12, 2016.


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