Cursive writing used to be a regular, expected part of early education. It was important before and well into the computer era, but in the last 20 years, it has gradually fallen out of sight. These days, if students are taught cursive at all, it’s as a weeks-long module some time in third or fourth grade, and it never comes up again. But there are many who say that its importance today is as great as ever.
One of those cursive handwriting advocates is State Representative Dickie Drake (R-Alabama) who proposed a new law that his state has recently adopted, pushing for handwriting to be restored to its place of importance. The law, which passed in August, requires that third graders be able to demonstrate proficiency in cursive writing. It was already a part of Alabama’s state-approved curriculum, but it was recommended for fifth graders and had no accountability measures. Drake blames Common Core for its having fallen by the wayside.
“They [the teachers] don’t have time to teach it,” he said in his proposal speech, referring to the time infamously taken up in Common Core schedules for testing and test-oriented teaching.
Historian Tamara Thornton, while she agrees with Drake about the importance of cursive, says the problem is much older. She cites news articles from the 1950s and ’60s linking the decline of cursive writing to American vulnerabilities in the Cold War.
Both Drake and Thornton see cursive laws as a solid way for Alabama’s educational lawmakers to support traditional values in schools.
Alabama is not the first state to return cursive writing to its curriculum. California and Louisiana both have educational mandates to teach the subject, and South Carolina is considering one as well. Is it a skill with value in an era when pen-and-paper writing is rapidly becoming something people only do for personal pleasure? Even Drake’s own statements acknowledge how little we use cursive: The only practical use he could cite was making sure kids know how to sign their name.