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Wisconsin Schools And Cursive Writing

October 8, 2019

I hear from family and friends alike that fewer young people sent hand-written notes of thanks or greetings about a holiday or birthday.  What once was a common occurrence is now a rarity.  One of the reasons that such notes are not placed in an envelope to a grandparent or uncle is that too few of our school students have the ability to write in cursive style.

Too few schools think it a good use of time and resources to push cursive given the keyboard world in which we live.  I, however, differ with that trend.  As such I am glad there is a pushback over the lack of teaching cursive writing.  I was delighted to read in the Wisconsin State Journal of an effort in our state to remedy the problem.

Republican lawmakers who head up both of the Legislature’s education committees are sponsoring a bill, which has some bipartisan support, that would mandate children in traditional public schools, independent charters and private schools participating in the state’s voucher programs be taught cursive writing in the elementary grades.

The reason I feel strongly about this matter is due to the historic documents and first-hand accounts that any good student needs to deal with in order to analyze our past. Think about the long letters of politics and love shared between John and Abigail Adams.  These historical documents should make us all yearn for the wonderful flow of the pen, and the glory of putting thoughts to paper.

The intimacy and poignancy of the letters are still breathtaking after these couple of centuries since they were written.  The skill of the pen and fluid nature of their conversations–in cursive— makes the reader aware of the powerful minds and intellects that allowed this nation to be created.   There is no doubt that without a willful woman named Abigail there could not have been the self-assured and forward-thinking John.  The two were a team. They should be known by these letters.

But if one can not now write in cursive one can not read the amazing Adams’s letters, either.  What a loss!

Studies are proving when young person’s hands are writing out notes in curvise there is a stronger association for learning and memory. This increased brain activity may be why students who are proficient at cursive—proficient enough to take notes by hand in a college classroom—do better on tests than their peers who took notes on a computer, as determined by a 2014 joint UCLA and Princeton study.  Cursive also allows better outcomes on standardized tests, like the ACT.  The reason is cursive allows you to write a thought down faster.  In higher education, and certainly in the work world, that is a huge benefit.

Several years ago in The New Yorker a columnist opined on what is lost when letters are no longer a central way to pass along thoughts to family and friends.  Since letters of this type are written in cursive the article seems timely in light of the efforts being taken in our statehouse. And with my fondness for the stories of our past.

If we stop writing letters, who will keep our history or dare venture upon a biography? George Washington, Oscar Wilde, T. E. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Vera Nabokov, J. P. Morgan—if any of these vivid predecessors still belong to us in some fragmented private way, it’s because of their letters or diaries (which are letters to ourselves) or thanks to some strong biography built on a ledge of letters. Twenty years ago, many of us got a whole new sense of the Civil War while watching and listening to Ken Burns’s nine-part television documentary, which took its poignant tone from the recital of Union and Confederate soldiers’ letters home. G.I.s in the Second World War wrote home on fold-over V-Mail sheets. Troops in Afghanistan and, until lately, Iraq keep up by Skype and Facebook, and in some sense are not away at all.

Students should be expected to read diaries, journals, letters of their loved ones and original historical documents throughout their education.  To achieve that end they must be schooled in cursive writing.

Let us again have a generation who knows not only what “Put your John Hancock on it” means, but also can actually do it!

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