Does cursive really have cognitive benefits?

I teach third grade, and my legislature has just passed a law mandating that all students learn cursive.

This is a debate I’ve had with other teachers. It seems to me that cursive had a place in society when it was the fastest way of putting ideas down on paper. But now, keyboarding is far faster for folks that learn the skill, and it’s a superior means of communication. I’d much prefer that my students learn effective keyboarding.

Some folks argue that learning cursive has strong benefits for cognition. What little I’ve seen of the research makes me skeptical, though: it looks as though they’re not comparing cursive-instruction-as-intervention to any other intervention, but simply to a lack of intervention, and that seems sketchy to me. Furthermore, I suspect that a lot of the hand-eye-coordination benefits of cursive are currently imparted through the use of computer mice and touch screens.

So what’s the straight dope? Is the scientific research on the benefits of learning cursive rigorous, controversial, or quackery?

I can’t answer your question directly, but I never learned cursive, and I’m not mentally deficient (as far as I know). I did eventually learn to touch type, though, and that’s been hugely helpful.

Sounds like some old farts in the legislature were like, “We learned cursive! Dammit they should too.”

[li]A CNN article from 2011.[/li][li]An NPR article from 2011.[/li][li]The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity prefers keyboarding.[/li][/ul]
For me it’s similar to using calculators in the classroom. If you haven’t mastered a pencil, paper and an eraser to do math, you shouldn’t be using a calculator. I think the same should apply to writing as well. Teach both so each student is able to learn all the skills.

It might come in handy if there are no batteries or a power outlet. :slight_smile:

Besides, is teaching being pushed by technology for the sake of technology, or is technology supplementing teaching?

I remember learning cursive in elementary school and even had some teachers who required that all assignments be written in cursive or they wouldn’t be accepted, with the exception of a few longer writing assignments that were allowed to be printed. I’m young enough that using a word processor and printing it up at home was always an option, and even for those who may not have had a computer at home, there was always the computer lab at school or public library as an option.

The justification I always got for why they insisted always seemed to be in relation to hand-printing and never in comparison to typing. They claimed it was faster, though I never felt comfortable enough with it that I could say it was clearly faster, and so my writing would be better because I’d better be able to keep up with my thoughts. The other thing I heard was that picking up the pen and setting it down also served as a way of interupting my thoughts and would lead to fattigue. So, even if we accept those arguments as valid, fine, cursive is better than printing, but that doesn’t compare to typing. Someone who has received similar instruction in both cursive and typing will undoubtedly be significantly faster typing, which blows away any supposed stream-of-consciousness argument. And I also find typing to be a lot less fatiguing than hand-writing as well.

For reasons I wasn’t told, I could imagine seeing just the idea of learning a skill and putting in that practice as a good cognitive benefit, but I don’t see why cursive, or any form of writing for that matter, is a necessary component. Why can’t I learn that sort of methodology through practice math problems, vocabulary, science, or whatever else?

I can still read reasonable cursive just fine, but generally printing is easier and, of course, typed is markedly better than both. Considering that I never had good handwriting, when I do have to write by hand, which is rare, legibility is the most important part. So, it seems to me that all cursive is really good for anymore is in creating a signature, but even that is on the way out with a lot of modern and near-future technology.

So, to me, whatever supposed cognitive benefit there is in cursive is completely drowned by the benefits of typing, in that it’s everywhere, it’s faster, it’s more legible. To me, the greatest cognitive benefit is being able to, as efficiently and effectively as possible, take a thought from my head onto a piece of paper or a screen, and typing wins that by huge margin. Also considering that typing is probably easier and faster to learn and an essential skill in the modern world anyway, I don’t see the point. For several years in elementary school, we would spent probably an hour a day on cursive; it has to be a pretty big benefit to still be worth that kind of investment today.

I disagree. And I suspect you do too, when it comes to things like square roots and sines and logarithms and the like, which we all typically were first exposed to with the aid of external calculators, long before we later (if ever) practiced effectively computing these by hand. And I don’t see why there’s any problem with that, nor why there should be any problem with treating multiplication and division and so on the same way.

(US centric) If they can read cursive, then they can then read our nation’s founding documents.

I was taught cursive, and did pretty well at it, but these days I would far rather kids be taught to print neatly. Most people will only ever use cursive to sign their names.

Previous threads that may be of interest:*
Cursing Cursive - In My Humble Opinion - Straight Dope Message Board
Why did I need to copy an "affidavit" in cursive? - Factual Questions - Straight Dope Message Board
What's faster, your printing or your cursive - In My Humble Opinion - Straight Dope Message Board

*My post there is #78.

Unless I see hard evidence, I will believe it is a load of bull. They should learn to print–useful in a power failure. My handwriting was always pretty shitty and so were most people’s.

Once upon a time, I was on a local school board when a directive came down from on high (the Quebec Ministry of Education) that all students learn to do square roots by hand. I actually can do that but I am willing to bet that not one doper in a 100 could. And I am not sure I have used that algorithm since I left school. The only time I used it was to program a square root function using the one-bit-at-a-time method. It ran much faster (on an old 8088 chip) than Newton’s method requiring multiple divisions. What saves it is that next bit is either 0 or 1 and the test whether 1 is too large is very fast.

“We all”? No, not so.

I was exposed to square roots and sines and logarithms and the like before there were easily available, affordable calculators that would do these things. I mean, I never saw a calculator in trig or algebra class while I was in high school.

I agree that keyboarding would be superior; the problem is that you need keyboards. Where I teach, we’re lucky if we have enough chairs.

It is an ongoing problem for me: The kids can’t read my board notes when I use cursive, so it takes me longer to write them; then it takes them forever to copy even the sparest notes because they are excruciatingly slow printers. And I refuse to increase my paper footprint (like so many teachers) by using pre-printed handout notes.

I vote for learning cursive. It’s the faster, cheaper, and greener option when options are limited.

Yes, but you had slide rules and log/sine tables and such. Those are external calculation devices too… Surely your first exposure to such concepts was not “Here’s an algorithm to compute these by hand. It’s vital that you demonstrate mastery at doing so, and I won’t allow anyone or anything to help you calculate one of these until you first demonstrate to me that you don’t need anyone or anything to help you calculate one of these”. Why shouldn’t someone tell you the decimal values of sqrt(2) and ln(5) and all such things when you’d like to know them, all the better to help you gain an understanding of square roots and logarithms and so on?

Your point is valid but you missed mine. Unless you can add, subtract, multiply and divide, memorize times tables, using paper, pencil and your head, i.e., know the basics without external tools, you don’t “graduate” to use said tools. I can’t count how many times making a purchase in a store I have to wait until the clerk uses a calculator to figure out some of my purchases. More often than not I beat them to the result with brain gymnastics. When asked how I did that, I just say that’s what we were taught in school. The answer is always, “We never learned that. We just used a calculator.”

Sometimes I kick myself I should have invested in battery futures way back when …

Is it really true that cursive is faster? As in, this has been measured? I never understood it. They tried to make me write cursive as a lad, and they told me it was faster. But to write in cursive I had to think about how to connect the letters, and I had to go back after each word and remember where my t’s and i’s were. Cursive took more thinking. I was told that story about how picking up the pen and putting it back down breaks your concentration, too, and I never bought it–since it felt completely smooth to me and it was cursive writing, with the thinking I just described, which broke my concentration and caused “fatigue.”

So was I just being lazy or what?

As to the math thing, Duckster, the problem wasn’t that they were taught to use a calculator, the problem was that they weren’t taught (or didn’t learn) how math works. You can know how math works without knowing even a single pen-and-paper algorithm. The algorithms accomplish exactly the same thing a calculator accomplishes, but much more slowly. They don’t help in your math comprehension a single iota–because, well, basically, they’re not math. They’re algorithms.

Now I actually think there’s value in learning how to follow (and create and be otherwise facile with) algorithms, but with the availability of computers and calculators, the domain for this study need not be restricted to arithmetic.

Screw cursive. They should be taught to illuminate manuscripts. Now there’s a cognitive skill! What if the copier jams?

old fart Speak for yourself, I had been doing trig and logs for years by the time I got my first calculator (never mastered square roots, though, perhaps because that happened to be the same teacher who claimed “there’s no logic in math”).

Screw that! What if there is no paper or ink? All kids should be taught to express stories, ideas, and concepts through dance, chanting, and singing around a fire. :slight_smile:

Time moves on, we figure out new ways to communicate, no big deal. However, writing is such a basic form of communication with others as well as a tool for documenting and creating things for one’s self, it is still necessary in today’s world. Doesn’t have to be cursive though! A lot of people can print just as fast.

I was under the impression that several studies have shown that teaching cursive actually slows down students and handicaps them in other subjects because they’re thinking about how to write instead of what they’re writing. I think I heard it on NPR, and I’m sure it was mentioned in posts here as well.

If learning cursive is important, why not teach cursive to begin with? It takes longer to teach and to master than printing, but surely not longer than printing and cursive.

Again, though, you almost certainly had access to devices such as slides rules, log tables, trig tables, etc. Devices which someone else had constructed by means you were not yourself in mastery of when you were first using them. When I said “external calculators”, I very much meant to include these sorts of aids.

But in case anyone else would like to stick on this point, fine, it’s certainly possible that some of you were made to drill on calculating sin(40 degrees) by hand long before you were allowed to resort to any external aid for such a calculation. I’ll humbly submit that those who were permitted to play with sines on calculators before (if ever) computing sines by hand suffered no serious damage to their mathematical education for it, though…

Well, sure… Or they could just look up the documents as transcribed into print in any of a billion places.

It’s not like the style of cursive children are trained in now is the same as how those documents were written at the time of the American revolution, for that matter (e.g., who distinguishes between medial and terminal <s> anymore?). Or as though there’s any danger of the ability to read such script being lost. No one’s saying people who want to practice reading or writing cursive shouldn’t have the opportunity. What’s at question is whether this is such a worthwhile skill as to spend time universally drilling children on achieving standardized mastery of it, to the detriment of other possible uses for that time.

If reading cursive makes you smarter, then reading Chinese or a similar language that requires distinguishing among hundreds or thousands of characters should make you a genius.

Is there any evidence of that?