Susan Niedenthal has taught third grade for 15 years at Deerfield School. A staple for her third-grade curriculum, and for many schools around the country, is to teach the art of curling and connecting letters through cursive handwriting.
“I think it’s a skill that’s nice to have,” Niedenthal said, “(and) then if you do write for signing your name and things like that, it’s nice to know that.”
After third grade, however, cursive might seem like an educational relic. Its future seems most affected by the growing presence of technology.
“We learn it, and then we don’t use it,” Niedenthal said about cursive. “We don’t write letters anymore. We do e-mail.”
Instant technology such as e-mail or a text message becomes a simpler, faster way to communicate — placing less emphasis on nice penmanship.
“When we use good penmanship and we’re doing all the pulling ups and pulling out and pulling back,” said Maureen Burns, a handwriting analyst, “that wires our brain for better social connections. And without that, we don’t have the good social connections.”
Burns’ analysis mostly focuses on improving people’s cursive handwriting. She warns against a societal shift from handwriting to technology as a loss of brain function and discipline.
“Because (of) the handwriting, you’re working a lot of parts of your brain at the same time,” Burns added. “You’re trying to decide what you want to write, how you want to say it.”
The Lawrence school district adopted a handwriting book two years ago to possibly prevent cursive’s extinction. Niedenthal said the book keeps penmanship a priority from preschool through sixth grade.
“I do hope that they keep teaching this,” Niedenthal said, “because it is important that they learn it just as a background, something to have.”