The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why Indiana’s push to require cursive writing education could be a good thing

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Indiana’s Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a bill requiring cursive writing be taught in schools, a mandate that the bill’s sponsor hopes will aid in brain development.

The bill was approved in a 39 to 9 vote, and sponsor Sen. Jean Leising (R) told that it was about more than simply expanding penmanship skills.

“When I first started dealing with this issue, I thought it was all about making sure that people could read cursive it if they weren’t taught to write it,” Leising said. “The reality is that child psychologists, statewide and nationally, say that it has a lot to do with cognitive brain development in children.”

Studies have indicated that there’s some truth to that. In 2006, for example, The College Board found that students who wrote SAT essays in cursive scored slightly better than those who did not. (Of course, the cause could be a third correlated factor.) Writing by hand involves significant brain activity, Texas A&M neuroscience professor William Klemm argued in a March piece in Psychology Today:

Cursive writing, compared to printing, is even more beneficial because the movement tasks are more demanding, the letters are less stereotypical, and the visual recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation. Cursive is also faster and more likely to engage students by providing a better sense of personal style and ownership.
Other research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor at the University of Washington, reported her study of children in grades two, four and six that revealed they wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.

Cursive writing may seem like a dying art, but surveys have shown that more than half of second- or third-grade educators still teach it to their students. And it has received renewed defense in recent years, as state after state adopted the uniform Common Core set of educational standards which does not include a cursive requirement. The standards have been adopted by 45 states and a movement to mandate cursive education is underway in at least sevenCalifornia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Utah.