Rachel Jeantel, the 19-year-old witness who took the stand in the recent case against George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin, stunned many when she admitted she couldn’t read cursive. But should it really be that surprising? Is cursive actually a dying trend? And if so, is that to the detriment of society?
To Robert Kravitz, who has been an educator for more than a decade, entering the field after being in business, people like Jeantel are the product of a nearly 15 year trend where script handwriting has been gradually taken out of curriculum.
“Over the last 10 to 15 years, it has been phased out systematically by grade,” Kravitz, the superintendent of Englewood Cliffs in New Jersey, told TheBlaze in a phone interview.
A study in 2007 by Vanderbilt University found 90 percent of teachers in both public and private schools said they still taught cursive handwriting. This finding might indicate no need for discussion on the lack of handwriting education, but debate over whether to phase out script writing has been going on for years regardless.
Why take cursive away in the first place? Kravitz said the simple answer is that it’s too time consuming for teachers.
“More time was spent invested on prepping for a test,” he said. And teachers “didn’t have time to help develop cursive.”
Pediatric occupational therapist Michelle Yoder told TheBlaze an increased dependence on technology is driving this debate as well.
But even though most schools might still be teaching cursive writing, the Common Core Standards do not require script to be taught, which might drive more schools to consider dropping what many are beginning to believe is an obsolete form of communication.
Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, wrote for the New York Times in May that “there is little compelling research to suggest the teaching of cursive positively affects other student skills enough to merit its teaching.”
Polikoff argues that there is “no need” to teach both print and cursive.
“The Common Core standards are well constructed and full of the essential skills students need to succeed in reading and writing,” Polikoff wrote. “The architects of the standards certainly weighed the inclusion of cursive and believed there was no need to include it. Thus, educators and policymakers should resist the urge to add more skills. Doing so would simply result in a crowded, less-focused curriculum, undermining the strength of the standards.”
Kravitz would disagree though. He said that after only a few years of not teaching cursive at Englewood Public Schools they’ve made the decision to bring it back. North Carolina joined schools making a motion to require writing and reading of cursive in late May as well. Alabama, California and Georgia took action to require cursive education in some capacity, according to a 2012 report by the National Association of State Boards of Education.
For educators who feel like teaching handwriting might take away from getting to important standardized test content, Kravitz said cursive could actually help on test taking.
“Printing adds seconds,” he said. “It adds up.”
Yoder agreed saying each time a person has to lift up a writing utensil while printing, it add up to valuable minutes wasted on written tests, like those that require essays.
Another potential benefit, Kravitz said, is reducing occupational therapy costs, which he said seems to have risen in recent years. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects this field to see a 33 percent increase by 2020, which it deems “much faster than average.”
Yoder, who owns her own clinic Touchstone Therapy in North Carolina, said more students might need therapy from specialists like her because they are no longer honing their gross and fine motor skills. Cursive handwriting plays a part in developing them.
Yoder said it helps stimulate the brain in a variety of ways that can have long-lasting implications in a way that typing does not. The very act of how much of handwriting used to be taught — through repetition of letters and sentences — helped ingrain skills and information in the brain, she included.
Not that a lack of cursive is completely to blame. Yoder cites what she calls “screen time” — how much time kids are on computers, watching TV and using other electronic devices — as one of the major culprits for a reduction in motor skill development. Some of the anecdotal effects of this are that she sees many more children now who have trouble just sitting still.
The effects of increased screen time and the death of cursive, if it were to progress, Yoder said would be apparent in society later down the road.
“Knowing what we know about the brain, I would anticipate long-term effects,” she said.
Given his business background, Kravitz too thinks there’s a valuable professional element still to be had with cursive.
“Leaders today need to be able to write,” he said.
When asked what’s wrong with the typed out note, Kravitz said “it’s generic.”
“Anyone can type a letter,” he said. “I don’t get the emphasis.”
Although Kravitz might send type written letters home to parents within his school district, he makes it a point to at least personally sign each one, as opposed to using a stamp.
Do parents really care about cursive? From Kravitz and Yoder’s perspective, they do. Yoder said parents in her office wanted tools like what she used in the clinic to help their kids so much it spurred her to create a kit — Fundanoodle — that helps develop cursive writing and age-appropriate motor skills. Kravitz, too, said parents were “thrilled” when it was proposed to bring back cursive.
That might be something to write home about.
Featured image via Shutterstock.com. This story has been updated to change Englewood Public Schools to Englewood Cliffs.