The Common Core Push to Kill Cursive Is Bad Futurism Badly Executed

Thinking about the future isn't about making logical leaps, it's about making sense.

lance robotson/Flickr

There are a lot of things about Common Core not to like, but perhaps the most viscerally unlikeable tenant of this leviathan educational system is the effort to eliminate cursive from elementary school curriculum. The reasoning behind the war on cursive is, on a surface level, understandable: Today’s students won’t be writing each other longhand letters when they’re running the Fortune 500 companies of the future. Block script, the thinking goes, is a necessary evil. Cursive is just unnecessary.

This is wrongheaded in ways that illustrate how public policy often emerges from bad futurism.

Yes, keyboard proficiency should be a required skill. Kids in elementary school today will spend more time texting and typing as adults than the average Millennial. And, subsequently, the things they read will either be digital or printed. However, the premise that teaching kids how to type and how to write are totally different things is ridiculous.

D'Nealian script taught in the 70's, 80's, and 90's


The frustrating part is that the “cursive” being removed from the curriculum isn’t even technically cursive at all. If you’re younger than 40 you did not learn how to write proper cursive, or at least the cursive your parents were taught. You learned a cursive-block print hybrid called D’Nealian. The premise for the switch was to make it easier to learn than traditional cursive (which is a lot like calligraphy), but similar enough that students could still read traditional cursive. If you can learn how to write a lowercase “m” it doesn’t take that much extra time to add a little hook at the end and connect it to the next letter.

But let’s not get lost on the aesthetics of the thing. The issue is science, not manners. Handwriting, like everything else a body does, isn’t an activity that takes place in a vacuum. And, for younger children in particular, it’s actually incredibly beneficial. Taking notes in a more flowing hand leads to better information retention and cursive forces younger writers to focus on entire words rather than letters, which is not a bad thing if we want our kids to write well.

Studies show that learning to write in a more free-flowing script makes younger kids better readers, writers, and thinkers as a whole. For certain learning disabilities, a more fluid script can make all the difference when it comes to comprehension. Plus for children learning the alphabet, seeing it written in multiple forms aids in memorization. And if that isn’t enough, actual handwriting begets a more communicative writing style, which in turn translates into better verbal communication.

One can make a social case for cursive (kids will need to sign stuff!), but the bigger case for it is that it’s good for brains. And that’s the problem with the sort of government-sponsored amateur futurism at play in the Common Core: Easy logic is a dumb tool. Getting rid of cursive is an easy thing to justify to lawmakers and pitch to superintendents and all the way down to parents. It makes sense from a political standpoint because the logic seems sound if you don’t look into it at all. When you do, the argument dissolves almost instantly.

Do our kids need to know how to write cursive? They do not. Do they need to know how to think critically about the world around them? Yes. We should show them.