Back in 2014, journalist M. English penned an article for 21st Century Media that led with the line, “When John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, he couldn’t have known he’d become a penmanship icon,” and adding that January 23 is National Handwriting Day.
And that should matter to all of us even in this keyboard-happy culture and despite the fact that it’s July not January and school won’t be in session for several more weeks. As the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association reminds us, “The lost art of handwriting is one of the few ways we can uniquely express ourselves… Fonts lack a personal touch. Handwriting can add intimacy to a letter and reveal details about the writer’s personality. Throughout history, handwritten documents have sparked love affairs, started wars, established peace, freed slaves, created monuments, and declared independence.”
These folks are talking about cursive writing although printing counts, too, and both have been on the chopping block of late in large measure because of the Common Core English/Language Arts Standards.
Introduced back in 2008, Obama’s then U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan dangled the promise of divvying up $4.35 billion in Race to the Top federal grants to applying states that agreed to adopt them by adding 40/500 points to their applications.
Needless to say, it took; 45 states and D.C. ultimately adopted the Common Core State Standards which promote keyboarding skills with nary a mention of handwriting.
The upshot: Many districts took handwriting instruction off the books, despite the well-documented evidence that a direct link between cursive and the brain exists. As Sarah Sweeney-Denham, head of Plymouth Meeting Friends School in Pennsylvania, explains, “… Research indicates that cursive writing surpasses keyboarding when it comes to making practitioners better communicators, activating more neural areas connected to thinking, language, and working memory, and, in general, engaging the brain in learning and mastering concepts.”
Dr. Virginia Berninger, an educational psychology professor at the University of Washington backs that view with her research findings that, “Handwriting–forming letters–engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language. This myth that handwriting is just a motor skill is just plain wrong.”
Furthermore, she explained, “What we found out was that children until about grade six were writing more words, writing faster, and expressing more ideas if they could use handwriting-printing or cursive-than if they used the keyboard.”
Thankfully, a number of government folks have paid attention, such as Louisiana Republican state senator Beth Mizell who recently introduced a cursive writing bill that is now state law. From now on all traditional public schools and public charter schools there will begin teaching cursive by third grade and continue through the 12th.
Ten other states have hopped on the handwriting bandwagon, too, including Arkansas, California, Florida, Virginia, and Texas.
So, as Joe Heim of the Washington Post puts it, “Cursive writing was supposed to be dead by now. Schools would stop teaching it. Schools would stop teaching it. Kids would stop learning it… But, like Madonna and newspapers, cursive has displayed a gritty staying power, refusing to have its hooks and curlicues swept to the dustbin of handwriting history.”
What’s the story in your state, your school district?