Is cursive becoming obsolete? In Idaho, cursive handwriting has been part of the state-wide curriculum until Common Core was adopted in 2011. While some educators seemed to accept the changes without opposition, others were against omitting cursive handwriting from the learning standards.
Former Idaho State Rep. Linden Bateman is a passionate advocate for keeping cursive in the Idaho curriculum. He believes there are several reasons for the shift away from teaching this skill.
“First of all, the digital revolution. I mean texting, emailing. Trying to reverse that is like trying to hold the ocean back with a pitchfork. But, it also can be traced back to educational policy. It’s not just the technology,” Bateman said.
With keyboards generating the shapes of letters and numbers by just the click of a button, forming letters by hand is not a modern necessity for written communication. However, formal and legal documents still require a John Hancock or handwritten signature for legitimacy.
“Young people, a lot of them, don’t even know how to write in cursive or a decent signature; it’s a scribble or a squashed looking mark … that is typical … they won’t be able to read the Declaration of Independence, our founding documents,” he said.
For this same reason, he also believes family history work will feel a negative impact if cursive dissipates. Family history documents are often recorded in cursive, so not being able to read this form of handwriting will cause a disconnect between current generations and their ancestors. Manual indexing will become more and more difficult looking forward.
Bateman personally takes pride in letter-writing, even including hand-drawn sketches in colored pencil to add personality to each written exchange. Below is an example of a letter he wrote and illustrated.
“A handwritten letter has personality. It has warmth. It’s so beautiful to have that line to be written by the person that you love or the individual that’s writing the letter. It’s part of their personality. It’s not the sterile, cold communication of an e-mail or a text message. How many emails do we save? We save beautiful letters," he said.
Bateman asserted that increased emphasis on STEM learning and ‘No Child Left Behind’ resulted in less time for the arts like handwriting. During his term, he worked toward the preservation of the craft and ultimately drafted 2013 cursive legislation which stated that “cursive handwriting shall be taught in the public elementary schools of this state.” This legislation passed with a unanimous vote.
As outlined in the 2022 legislative revision, “The Idaho content standards for English language, arts and literacy, mathematics, and science shall be the content standards prepared by the 2020-2021 standards review committee dated January 3, 2022.” Under the Grade 3 writing strand, these standards require that students must be able to “write legibly in cursive.”
According to a letter from the Idaho State Department of Education, these most recent changes clarified the definition for “legible” and reinforced handwriting expectations for grades 3 through 6.
Mrs. Marlenna Hanni, a 3rd grade teacher at Kennedy Elementary in Rexburg, is one of several Idaho teachers who is affected by these legislative changes to education. She has always felt that cursive is a worthwhile standard to maintain.
“I remember learning cursive in third grade ... it wasn’t in the standards for this past year, but Idaho just reintroduced it back into their standards,” she said.
Throughout her teaching experience, Mrs. Hanni has observed that some students grasp cursive better than print. She described this as another motivation to include cursive learning in her lesson plans.
“Some students in the school struggle with their handwriting and even though they might struggle with print handwriting, they might actually do better in cursive handwriting. It's actually worked with one of my students, and he's even told me, 'Mrs. Hanni, I don't really like to do print because it's kind of bad, but when I started doing cursive, I feel like my handwriting is nicer.'” she said.
Studies conducted by the University of Calgary show that mental retention is higher when notes are written by hand over being typed because “keyboarding does not provide the tactile feedback to the brain that contact between pencil or pen and paper does.”
Mrs. Hanni believes that teaching cursive early on is essential because of the developmental stage of the brain when it is first introduced to 3rd grade students. She recognized that withholding the standard could hinder handwriting skills during adult years.
According to the CDC, “The early years of a child’s life are very important for later health and development. One of the main reasons is how fast the brain grows starting before birth and continuing into early childhood. Although the brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, the first 8 years can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success.”
Even while cursive was only implemented at the liberty of individual teachers like Mrs. Hanni, Idaho students were learning and competing in the Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest. This contest encourages students grades K through 8 to practice good handwriting and awards them for it. For the competition, entries made by students in 3rd through 8th grade must be in cursive.
In 2022, Kennedy Elementary was recognized as a Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting State Winner. All student participants had to fill out the worksheet below, submit it to their teachers, and then to state and national panels.
One of Mrs. Hanni’s 3rd grade students, Grant Isle, won at the district and state level for his cursive handwriting submission into the Zaner-Bloser contest. Grant received a certificate and a medal for his win.
“At first, it was difficult, but then once I learned all of it and practiced, I got better and it was really fun,” Grant said.
Despite its teetering acceptance in education curriculum across the U.S., cursive is perhaps making a comeback as an artistic hobby. Pinterest and Instagram are littered with short video clips of skilled calligraphers who handpaint words in elegant font styles.
Calligraphy is in demand by consumers who are drawn to the beautiful lettering. This push in craft culture may be the saving grace for cursive as an art form even with its diminishing emphasis in schools nationwide.