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Cursive makes a comeback

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WORLD Radio - Cursive makes a comeback

A renewed emphasis on handwriting in schools helps develop students’ brains and connects them to the past


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NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: handwriting in cursive.

Before the internet age, learning to write in cursive was a rite of passage in elementary school. Not one I remember fondly.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: I never learned how to make a cursive capital “s.” Well, computers and tablets haven’t finished off handwriting as many expected. Last month, schools in California started teaching cursive again. And more recently, Indiana’s Senate passed a bill to require it.

Here’s state Senator Jean Leising talking to the Indianapolis Star:

JEAN LEISING: Many kids only know how to print their first name and they can't sign their name and to be honest they can't spell.

EICHER: Because cursive doesn’t come with spell check.

WORLD’s Lillian Hamman has the story.

PAMELA KELLER: What do you think the letter is?

STUDENTS: W!

Pamela Keller forms the flowing loops of cursive letters on her classroom whiteboard. She’s teaching at Orangethorpe Elementary School in Fullerton, California. Her students look up at her writing, and back down at their papers as they try to copy the letters in their own hands.

KELLER: And then just do it really light. I’m holding it gently and letting it flow over the paper.

In 2010, lawmakers and educators erased cursive from the Common Core curriculum requirements. Critics say students should spend time learning more modern skills like coding and typing as society depends more on technology. But growing support for the developmental and practical benefits of cursive is changing the minds of lawmakers.

ANCHOR 1: A new instruction topic awaits a new generation of California students. Cursive is making a comeback.

ANCHOR 2: A Michigan congresswoman has written a bill that would encourage school districts throughout the state to reconsider how they teach kids to write.

According to mycursive.com, 23 states currently require students to learn how to write in cursive between first and sixth grade. About a quarter of those states were added between 2018 and 2019, and at least five more have introduced legislation considering it.

So are lawmakers just trying to make sure the next generation can sign legislation, and contracts? Or is there something more going on here?

LESLIE ZOROYA: You're using different neural networks when you're doing cursive rather than printing and so it's creating those pathways in your brain.

That’s Leslie Zoroya from the Los Angeles county office of education. She says the neurological pathways channeled specifically in how cursive letters are formed helps with retaining information.

ZOROYA: As you're creating the letter you're thinking about what is the sound that that letter makes and how does it connect to the next letter and what are those two sounds together?

Supporters also say that students who aren’t taught cursive can’t read important historical documents written in cursive like the Constitution, or records from their own family ancestries. While AI can translate many of these documents, historian and former Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust warns that if we can’t read history as it was written, we can’t control our understanding of it.

DREW FAUST: When we can't read documents from the past, then the past is presented to us indirectly. I mean just imagine if you had some kind of contract that you had signed, and you couldn't read it. And someone told you well, this is what's in the contract…and then later you might find out it was something else. So there are limits in your power, in your sense of, of how the world works, and your sense of how the world used to work when you can't have access to a means of communication.

Faust also points out that reading documents written in cursive provides a tangible connection to the past in ways technology doesn’t.

FAUST: We today are thrilled to get signatures from people, we stand in line outside rock concerts and World Series games because that piece of paper says this person touched this paper, this person is linked to me through this paper.

How cursive will be taught will mostly be left up to the school districts to decide. Some will have to train teachers who weren’t required to learn it themselves. California teacher Pamela Keller is encouraged to see her students rising to the challenge of learning something new.

KELLER: A lot of my students will say “Oh, it’s too hard to write in cursive.” And so we tell them, “Well, it's going to make you smarter. It's going to help you move to the next level.” And then they get excited because students want to be the top dog in the class.

That challenge has now become the reward for students like 11-year-old Milo Chang.

MILO CHANG: I really think it helps like my handwriting too. If you’re doing something harder, you’ll probably get better at the easier version too.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Lillian Hamman.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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