Alarmed at the prospect of a future where kids don’t learn cursive, communities across the nation have begun to take a hard line fearing what is being lost, “Train our kids to write longhand,” many of them are saying to their public school administrators, “or we’ll pass laws requiring you to do it.”
It’s a real trend, and the pro-cursive forces have science on their side. Handwriting, it turns out, is good for you—and has plenty of benefits for the brain besides producing written input. Handwriting not only strengthens motor skills in children, it provides critical tools for anyone interested in developing their brain, building their memory, and grasping and expressing complex ideas and being more creative. In short, it makes most people smarter.
Why would anyone want to mess with that? In the rush to embrace technology, we have shifted focus to the keyboard at the expense of other important skills, such as writing. The resurgence in cursive writing has even spawned new teaching methods, such as CursiveLogic. Clive Thompson postulates that both are good for their respective tasks in an Inbound speech observing that metacognition favors the pen. Now, you can even take the next step and have the best of writing and computation at the same time. Harness the productivity of digital computing including writing – digital writing. Nebo is a great example of how to bridge the gap.
As studies increasingly demonstrated the cognitive benefits of handwriting over the last decade, educators have taken notice. Last year, both Alabama and Louisiana mandated cursive proficiency in public schools, the latest of 14 states to require cursive. New York City schools, the nation’s largest public school system with 1.1 million students, last year made a point of officially encouraging the teaching of cursive to students, generally in the third grade.
And the phenomenon is spreading. Weeks ago, a bill was introduced in Kentucky to require elementary students to learn cursive in the state, as did two legislators in Ohio. In Florida, Palm Beach County launched a study to help decide whether it would recommend mandatory cursive instruction in its schools.
In a few states, learning cursive never went away. But according to research by the Education Commission of the States, which tracks school-related policies and laws across the country, at least five states — Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Idaho — have passed legislation requiring cursive just within the last four years.
A small bit of the movement to reinstate cursive-requiring curriculum is about aesthetics and heritage. “If an American student cannot read the Declaration of Independence, that is sad,” said New York state assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who drove the push behind cursive in New York. Many of the great documents of our civilization have been written in cursive, from the Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights.
But there’s a good deal more to it than that. Cursive handwriting forces children to use more of their brain, according to one Indiana University study. In a separate study, researchers from Princeton and UCLA reported that handwriting improves composition and expression. Students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard.
Moreover, handwriting helps your long-term memory. In a third study, researchers at the University of Washington tested the recall of 80 students who took notes with their laptops vs. students who took handwritten notes. The students who took handwritten notes had a better long-term memory of the concepts and a better grasp of them. And, these benefits aren’t just for kids, either: Cursive handwriting sharpens aging minds. Adults studying new symbols, such as Japanese characters, seem to enhance recognition and memory by writing characters by hand, according to the Indiana University findings. The benefits of cursive writing even extend potentially to helping you find inner peace: Dr. Marc Seifer, a handwriting expert who wrote The Definitive Book of Handwriting Analysis, reports that handwriting consistently has a calming effect. That may be one part of why people keep journals.
The back-to-basics movement regarding cursive, in fact, isn’t limited to the U.S. “Does your child need a handwriting tutor?” asks the U.K. Telegraph, in a section-leading piece this month. The Telegraph piece goes on to point out that handwriting tutors that it’s surveyed have received a 20 percent increase in interest this year over last year. And French educators are putting more of an emphasis on cursive instruction, too, mandating instruction beginning at age six. The French belief is that handwriting provides a key step in cognitive development.
“Handwriting enables civilization,” wrote the Indian novelist Toba Beta.
The case for cursive is more compelling than ever.
That case is made even stronger when you consider that digital handwriting — using technology such as MyScript’s Interactive Ink — makes writing with a stylus on a tablet just as fully-featured, straightforward to use, easy to edit, and simple to digitize as writing with a word processor and the keyboard. Digital writing brings the productivity benefits of digital computing to the writing process, making your notes not only easy and edifying to take, but searchable, storable, and easily shareable. When you add in MyScript’s remarkable ability to accept and automate mathematical equations, geometric shapes, and musical annotation, handwriting with a stylus on a tablet using MyScript’s Nebo technology is actually in many ways simpler than writing with a word processor.
Look for more on this in future blogs, when we’ll spend some time analyzing the nature of a good writing experience and taking the measure of the remaining obstacles keeping everyone you know from regularly using digital, handwritten ink daily.