Technology’s threat to cursive writing

I read an interesting article about technology and the art of cursive by NBC Nightly News: Technology may script an end to the art of cursive writing. To be honest, what really drew my attention to the article was an interview by one of my calligraphy hero’s, Michael Sull (pictured below).

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Sull is well-studied, and well-trained, in the art of calligraphy. His lettering is beautiful, free yet structured. Honestly his work is moving, just like any good artwork should be. And if his beautiful penmanship doesn’t captivate you, all of his bow ties will!

I understand that technology is threatening the “relevance” of learning cursive. After reading the article by NBC, my heart was a little saddened at the prospect of loosing something that is so much more than a graded school subject. American cursive is an art form. Think I’m crazy? People ask me all of the time how I get my h’s, or r’s, to look the same. I am able to get my letters to look the same because I draw my letters, and drawing is art. Learning to draw letters is so much more than a subject that children might – or might not – use in the future. Heck, I can tell you that I have never practiced a science experiment outside the walls of school. Yet, I did learn from science (even though my grades never really reflected that).

So, after reading the article above, I did a little bit of my own research. One article that I read in Psychology Today by William R. Klemm, D.V.M, Ph.D., “What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain,” was very encouraging and insightful. The facts speak for themselves: learning cursive helps children succeed even if they rarely use it later in life.

“…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. 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.

There is spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. 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.

Much of the benefit of hand writing in general comes simply from the self-generated mechanics of drawing letters. During one study at Indiana University to be published this year, researchers conducted brain scans on pre-literate 5-year olds before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced self-generated printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and “adult-like” than in those who had simply looked at letters. The brain’s “reading circuit” of linked regions that are activated during reading was activated during hand writing, but not during typing. This lab has also demonstrated that writing letters in meaningful context, as opposed to just writing them as drawing objects, produced much more robust activation of many areas in both hemispheres.

Cursive writing, compared to printing, is even more beneficial because the movement tasks are more demanding, the letters are less stereotypical, and the visual recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation. Cursive is also faster and more likely to engage students by providing a better sense of personal style and ownership.”

If you are interested, you can read more about “What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain.”

I have very clear memories about learning cursive in grade school. I happened to really love learning cursive {shocker}. I remember practicing my letters over and over again with a pencil. (Ironically, that is how you learn calligraphy – endless hours of practice with a pencil.) I erased fervently when I made a mistake. (I was a bit of a perfectionist in writing from a young age.) And finally, I ‘graduated’ to an erasable pen. That was a big day for me! I can still remember how the pen smelled: inky and like plastic, a refreshing change from lead and wood. I saw my new erasable pen as a trophy of my success. Unknown

We learn science not because everyone is going to be a scientist when they get older, but because we grow and become smarter in the process. The same goes for math, history and even the language arts. No matter what you believe about cursive and hand writing, its relevance in helping our children is undeniable. The facts cannot be ignored. If it is important for cursive to continue, talk to your teachers about it, email them… or better, write them a note. We should make sure that we ‘dot our i’s and cross our t’s’ {sorry, I had to} so that children are given every opportunity for success.

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5 Comments on “Technology’s threat to cursive writing”

  1. Lynda says:

    Great post Samira. I was also reading that a study in 2011 found that calligraphy can enhance the effects of medication for dementia. When elderly subjects experiencing mild cognitive impairment took up Chinese calligraphy for two weeks, their brain function improved!

  2. schmamy says:

    interesting–and good to know. my little guy is learning cursive in *kindergarten*–which seems a bit ridiculous and extreme to me, even if I’m not one of those in favor of eliminating it altogether. I’m glad to read your perspective and shared research 🙂 your calligraphy is definitely gorgeous art!

    • Samira says:

      Thanks Amy! Learning cursive in kindergarten is young! I’m pretty sure I was still working on printing my alphabet at that age – let alone cursive. 🙂

  3. Paula says:

    Very interesting and thought provoking.


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