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Apodaca: Is cursive cursed to end?

October 26, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

An unlikely controversy has erupted in education regarding, of all things, cursive writing.

The debate over cursive is reaching full throttle courtesy of the new Common Core State Standards and its top-to-bottom overhaul of K-12 curriculum, which is now beginning to be rolled out in our local schools.

Cursive writing, while not expressly prohibited or discouraged, isn't included in the new standards. For now, California has opted to continue requiring cursive instruction, but many observers believe it's just a matter of time before that mandate becomes history. That might not kill it outright, but cursive could end up like the character from the movie "Princess Bride" who was declared to be "mostly dead."

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This has fostered some sharp reaction by two opposing camps. On one side are traditionalists who argue that cursive writing is an important cultural and academic discipline that teaches students focus and fine motor skills, benefits that carry over to all major subject areas, from math to English composition.

Handwriting specialist Kathryn Majewicz, owner of Orange County Handwriting, argues that cursive builds important neural connections, and is more efficient than printing because there are fewer stops and starts. She likens it to driving on a freeway vs. surface streets, a difference she finds especially helpful to students with reading and writing disabilities such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.

A few justifications for teaching cursive are less persuasive. I have to laugh in sympathy at the regular postings in online chat rooms by anxious students wondering whether writing in cursive will really help them score higher on the essay portion of the SAT.

This worry stems from a College Board study that reportedly found that among a group of test takers it evaluated, the small portion who wrote their essays in cursive received slightly higher scores. Some observers see that as solid evidence that cursive is a superior style of writing, and that those who use it exhibit better concentration.

But if the finding means anything at all, which I'm not sure it does, it's just as easy to believe that it reflects a bias on the part of scorers, or that the cursive writers in the study just happened to be marginally better test takers.

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