Stats, Facts & Research

Cursive Writing Boosts Cognitive Skills (So Why Aren’t Schools Teaching It?)

spellingBeing able to sign our name in cursive is something that most adults take for granted. However, today’s children may not be able to do this simple task. Why? The Common Core State Standards, the standardized educational benchmarks for U.S. public schools, have omitted cursive as a requirement and many schools are dropping it from the curricula in favor of keyboard proficiency.

While it’s true that being able to type and navigate a computer is an essential skill for tomorrow’s workforce, the ability to read and write in cursive is still necessary. In fact, a recent online survey by USA Gold pencils found that 89% of adults and children think that it is still important to know cursive.

When asked whether they felt that cursive writing is a skill that all workers, no matter their occupation, should know, 70% of U.S. adults agreed it is a skill that workers should still possess. Furthermore, the study found that 79% of adults and 68% of children believe cursive writing still needs to be taught, as it is always going to be necessary.

Of course, there are detractors that think cursive is outdated and unnecessary because most of our communication is done through a keyboard. But if you don’t know cursive, what does that say about you?

When the USA Gold pencils survey asked respondents to describe what they think about adults who do not know how to read or write in cursive, about half of adults and children (50% and 52% respectively) believe they probably never learned it in school; 30% of adults and 25% of children presume they are less literate (e.g. educated/learned) than those that can; while 7% of adults and 11% of children assume those that have not mastered penmanship proficiency are just not smart.

Having your intellect questioned is never good. And when it’s your boss, even in jest, it’s even worse. Case in point. When President Obama appointed Jack Lew as Secretary of Treasury in January, his scrawl made international headlines. As reported by the UK’s Daily Mail, “Obama joked that he had considered abandoning Lew’s nomination after learning of his illegible signature, and added that it could become an international embarrassment. He added: ‘Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency should he be confirmed as secretary of the Treasury.’” Ouch.

In addition to being outed for his poor penmanship in the media, the Twittersphere had a go at Lew as well. Check out this story in the Huffington Post to see photos of the comments (not surprisingly, no one cut him any slack).

Not knowing cursive can also have serious consequences, as this report from CBS News details how a single sentence, uttered in the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin, catapulted the issue of cursive writing into the national spotlight.

“When asked if she could read a letter in court,” the article reads, “witness Rachel Jeantel, her head bowed, murmured with embarrassment, ‘I don’t read cursive,’ according to court testimony.”

And the ramifications continue. Many historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will be illegible if people can’t read or write in cursive.

Jimmy Bryant, director of archives and special collections at the University of Central Arkansas, told The New York Times, “Cursive writing is a long-held cultural tradition in this country and should continue to be taught; not just for the sake of tradition, but also to preserve the history of our nation.”

But beyond the intellectual, cultural and historical aspects of being able to know cursive, Suzanne Asherson of Handwriting Without Tears, a handwriting program for teachers, told the Los Angeles Times that, most importantly, cursive is functional. “When a child knows the mechanics of forming letters in cursive, they can better focus on their content,” she says.

And there’s any interesting reason for this. Scientists are discovering that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to learn “functional specialization,” that is capacity for optimal efficiency. “In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control and thinking,” writes William Klemm, D.V.M., Ph.D., Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, in this article published in Psychology Today.

“Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice.”

Klemm also says there is a spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. “To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers,” he writes. “Students have to pay attention and think about what and how they are doing it. They have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.”

But writing cursive isn’t just for the kiddos; it can keep adult brains finely tuned as well. Instead of sending an email to employees thanking them for a job well done, give them a handwritten note of thanks. And your customers will also take notice of a thank-you card with handwritten sentiments of appreciation for their business. Not only will your brain get a workout, but you’ll also be remembered because your communication is more personal and sincere.

You can also have fun by celebrating National Handwriting Day on January 23. Have a contest in your office: Invite employees to write (in cursive!) a favorite quote and have peers vote on the one with the best penmanship. The winner receives an elegant, engraved pen/pencil set with your logo and/or their name. (Writing instruments are powerful brand builders. Check out these three reasons why they should be part of your marketing plan.)

Partner with local schools (public, private, charter, Montessori) to provide writing instruments (decorated with your logo) to students. You could even sponsor a curriculum to help those schools that don’t have the resources to teach penmanship bring it back into the learning environment. You’ll boost your company’s brand recognition while building valuable goodwill within the community.

However you get involved, remember these words from Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, British statesman and man of letters:

“A man’s penmanship is an unfailing index of his character, moral and mental, and a criterion by which to judge his peculiarities of taste and sentiments.

We couldn’t agree more.