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Cursive has faded from its pivotal place in education’s sacred triumvirate of the three R’s, “Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic,” an ironically mangled slogan for American education, and perhaps some indication of the roots of the nation’s education woes. Proper, cursive handwriting was once considered an integral part of the middle third of this policy. Long gone are the days when penmanship was marked on report cards, even through high school. In their rush to modernize education and provide a more technology-oriented education to students, our schools have been penny-wise and pound-foolish: forsaking a life-long skill and timeless tradition for what may amount to little more than a passing fad in an era of accelerating technological growth and new methods of input: interacting with soon-to-be obsolete computers with a standard qwerty keyboard.

Once a staple of third-grade curricula, cursive education is being replaced by computer education and standardized-test prep, which is becoming more and more important in an era of education that demands strict accountability and instantly-measurable results from students, teachers, and schools alike. Ms. Jane Cooper, a long-time teacher of advanced English courses at Seminole noted that “on a daily basis, a person doesn’t necessarily always have access to a computer.”

Ms. Cooper continued, “[Cursive education] is really important, especially now because our students are asked to take a lot of high-stakes tests, and the speed at which a person can write is severely retarded by not being able to write cursive…we find more and more of our students who don’t write as much as they would on the AP exams or the IB exams because of fatigue, when in the past students wrote much more because they wrote in cursive.”

Reporting on a new, grueling essay section on the SAT, which required a 25-minute essay, the Washington Post found, “Of the 1.5 million students who have answered the SAT’s new handwritten essay, only 15% submitted their essay in cursive.”

In that same article, it was found that those who wrote in cursive had slightly higher scores, possibly due to the fact that these cursive-writers were better equipped to express their thoughts quickly and manage more complex ideas on paper. According to that same Washington Post article, in one study, “Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who studies the acquisition of writing, experimented with a group of first-graders in Prince George’s County who could write only 10 to 12 letters per minute. The kids were given 15 minutes of handwriting instruction three times a week. After nine weeks, they had doubled their writing speed and their expressed thoughts were more complex. He also found corresponding increases in their sentence construction skills.”

And when discussing neatness, Graham said, “When adults are given the same composition written in good handwriting and poor handwriting, “they still give lower grades for ideation and quality of writing if the text is less legible,” according to the article.

Cursive education has suffered as a result of increased time spent teaching computer skills that children could easily learn at home (and are already notoriously good at doing so). The interfaces that students today are trained to use are very likely not to exist in future years. Much time has been devoted to helping students interact with the computers that dominate more and more of people’s daily lives, but with the rise of multi-touch computing and devices like the iPad, the entire computing paradigm taught to students of the past and present may very well be rendered obsolete. Speech-to-text software is improving, too, and it is only a matter of time before the inefficient qwerty keyboard, an invention surprisingly made to hinder typing speed, is replaced by superior modes of input. Already a number of other schemes for laying out keyboards have been developed with faster typing speeds than ever before reached, like the Dvorak keyboard.”

The point here, in this discussion of changing technology, is not that cursive is unneeded when technology improves, but that proper handwriting with pen and paper stands like a firm rock, embedded in the sands of tradition, while other technologies rush past it, replacing the last one after the other. Cursive remains a sure-fire skill that will never be outdated; it will always remain applicable for exams and other purposes. The time spent teaching it in class will surely not be wasted, as typing instruction could be. Ms. Cooper said, “[Standardized tests] are not going to change any time soon because they [test administrators] want to be sure the students’ handwriting[…]verifies its authenticity.”

Ms. Cooper said that in her classes, “I see mostly printing. In fact, very often I ask students to write a signature, and they don’t have a signature. They just print, which is not good, because it’s easily forged.”

Additionally, the disconnect between generations who have had schooling in cursive and those who haven’t are not able to communicate effectively. Ms. Cooper said that in her own classes, “The problem for me as a teacher—which is not educationally sound for me to impose on students—[…]is [that] I cannot handle as many papers as I respond [by] printing, because it’s too difficult for me to write that much printed. But when I hand things back, my students can’t read it. I read them to people all the time. Just a couple of years ago did someone finally say, ‘I can’t read cursive.’”

These developments are recent, too. Ms. Cooper detailed, “I know from my experience in high school, it used to be [that] students would come into class and they would always say, ‘Does it have to be in cursive?’ No one’s asked me that in years.”

With such a groundswell of empirical evidence to support its use and a growing need for it in a more competitive society that requires better and better performance on tests, cursive is a solid investment in an uncertain and fluid future, with a great guarantee on returns. Before long, there may not be a need to type on a keyboard designed to slow typing, but there will always be a market for the time-honored tradition of cursive writing, whether it is expressed in tense examination halls, heartfelt love notes, or formal correspondence. Such a valuable and applicable part of our literary heritage should not go to waste, and students need to learn to utilize it.