From Cursive to Art


“Cursive has an artistic element and there is a certain elegance to writing with paper and pencil. Research shows there is different brain activity when writing by hand than when typing.”

Michael Borka, Associate Professor
College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University

In January I came across some posts on Education Week about teaching handwriting—especially cursive—in schools. These questions were raised in light of the common core standards that many school districts have adopted.

There was an educational summit that Jackie Zubrzycki, a contributor at EdWeek, attended, which prompted her to write an article (and a post, or two) about the discussions that took place at the Newseum.

Zubrzycki wrote that the common core mentioned keyboarding skills but not handwriting skills, and advocates for handwriting suggested states include a supplement that covered handwriting because of research that favors teaching handwriting.

When I first came across Zubrzycki’s article I wondered why teaching handwriting was even an issue. Of course handwriting should be taught in schools. It’s important. I thought it was a no-brainer that learning handwriting, including cursive, was integral to the learning process.

But I guess with the pervasive use of computers and keyboards and word processing software, some people think it’s a waste of time to teach handwriting, or at least cursive, because kids can just be taught how to type on the keyboard, and that will be just as effective.


As much technology as we may use in our lives, and as much Angry Birds young kids may clock in on their parents’ iPhones, I like what Steve Graham, a professor at Vanderbilt University said in the article:

“We don’t live in a handwriting world, and we don’t live in a digital world. We live in a hybrid world.”

From what I remember of my own school work, the computer was used a lot for research papers, BUT! only after we created handwritten bubble diagrams and brainstorming charts and a thesis or “pitch” (for lack of non-journalistic term). I can say that for as much as I rely on the computer to do a bulk of my writing—even for my posts here on GCi—I still rely heavily on handwriting.

Throughout school I hand wrote my lecture notes. When I’m out reporting I use my steno with pen (and a digital recorder for backup). Before major papers, or even one-page essays, I hand wrote my initial draft. The act of freewriting with pen to paper, jotting down relevant and irrelevant thoughts was crucial in my ability to push out a decent paper for my classes. There’s something about hand writing that really gets the brain going. Even doodling and drawing squiggly lines is helpful.

The common core doesn’t explicitly state the teaching of handwriting as one of its objectives, but perhaps the writers of the standards didn’t think it necessary since writing is such an obvious part of our lives. But they may also have taken it for granted as can be seen by some of the concerns raised by people who think implementing the common core means neglecting handwriting instruction for other requirements like literacy and argumentative skills.

But I’m pretty confident that educators aren’t going to abandon handwriting instruction just because it’s not stated in the common core. (If they do… uh, what the ef.) Which is why the real hub-bub around the whole handwriting instruction was focused primarily on teaching cursive.

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