The curlicue letters of cursive handwriting, once considered a mainstay of American elementary education, have been slowly disappearing from classrooms for years. Now, with most states adopting new national standards that don’t require such instruction, cursive could soon be eliminated at most public schools.
For many students, cursive is becoming as foreign as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. In college lecture halls, more students take notes on laptops and tablet computers than with pens and notepads. Responding to handwritten letters from grandparents in cursive is no longer necessary as they, too, learn how to use email, Facebook and Skype.
And educators, seeking to prepare students for a successful future in which computer and typing skills have usurped penmanship, are finding cursive’s relevance waning, especially with leaner school budgets and curricula packed with standardized testing prep. So they’re opting not to teach it anymore.
“It’s seeing the writing on the wall,” said Patricia Granada, principal at Eagle View Elementary in Fairfax County, Va. “Cursive is increasingly becoming obsolete.”
Michael Hairston, president of the Fairfax Education Association, the largest teachers union in the county, called cursive “a dying art.”
“Cursive writing is a traditional skill that has been replaced with technology,” Hairston said. “Educators are having to make choices about what they teach with a limited amount of time and little or no flexibility. Much of their instructional time is consumed with teaching to a standardized test.”
Since 2010, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core standards, which do not require cursive instruction but leave it up to the individual states and districts to decide whether they want to teach it. A report the same year by the Miami-Dade public school system found that cursive instruction has been slowly declining nationwide since the 1970s.
“The Common Core State Standards allow communities and teachers to make decisions at the local level about how to teach reading and writing … so they can teach cursive if they think it’s what their students need,” said Kate Dando, a spokeswoman for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which promotes the Common Core. “The standards define the learning targets that need to be met to ensure students graduate from high school prepared for success in college and careers. … The decision to include cursive when teaching writing is left to states, districts, schools and teachers.”
Proponents of cursive say that many of the country’s historical documents were written in the fancy script, including the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They say that future historians who lack the ability to read cursive might not be able to study original historical documents.
Steve Graham, an education professor at Arizona State University and one of the top U.S. experts on handwriting instruction, said he has heard every argument for and against cursive.
“I have to tell you, I can’t remember the last time I read the Constitution,” Graham said. “The truth is that cursive writing is pretty much gone, except in the adult world for people in their 60s and 70s.”
Graham said the argument for keeping cursive around centers more on tradition than practicality.
“What I typically hear for keeping cursive is how nice it is when you receive a beautifully cursive-written letter. It’s like a work of art,” Graham said.