In Defense of Cursive

Jun 3, 2014

A fascinating article in The New York Times this week suggests that cursive may have benefits beyond attractive penmanship.

As the author, Maria Konnikova, points out, cursive is largely left out of the Common Core standards, but there may be evidence that handwriting plays an important role in teaching children how to read and think.

Several studies cited in the article found that different kinds of writing, whether typing, printing by hand or writing in cursive, activated different neural networks.

One study by psychologist Virginia Berninger at the University of Washington found that children writing by hand were able to express more ideas than children typing on a keyboard.

When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.

Critics have long complained about the declining focus on cursive in public schools. These studies make a strong case for reversing that trend, or at least for keeping handwriting in the curriculum even as we increase the use of typing and computers in the classroom.