On National Handwriting Day, an ode to cursive writing

Of all the merit badge requirements out there, my absolute favorite is requirement 7a of the Eagle-required Communication merit badge.

Here it is: “Write to the editor of a magazine or your local newspaper to express your opinion or share information on any subject you choose. Send your message by fax, email, or regular mail.”

One of the reasons I favor this requirement is purely selfish: I like reading the letters sent to the editors of Boys’ Life and Scouting magazines, a group of which I consider myself a lucky member. We circulate these letters (yes, we really read what your Scouts write!), and seeing what Scouts have written is one of the coolest parts of my job.

The other reason I appreciate requirement 7a is because it encourages Scouts to write. And sometimes, though not always, they do that writing by hand, practicing cursive skills that are rapidly declining in this age of thumb-typed text messages and keyboard-aided status updates.

Many of my favorite letters are the handwritten ones. Somehow they seem more special, with each Scout conveying a bit of his personality in the way he dots his I’s and crosses his T’s.

Sure, the quality of the cursive is far from the gorgeous swoops, curls and swirls of our Founding Fathers, but at least these young men are trying. That’s more than you can say for most of our youth today — members of a generation that learns keystrokes instead of pen strokes.

Cursive handwriting is a dying art, and with National Handwriting Day coming on Jan. 23 (not coincidentally the birthday of John Hancock), I thought it was an appropriate time to ask the expert why cursive handwriting is worth saving.

I have just the expert: Linda Shrewsbury, creator and president of CursiveLogic, who has an innovative, intuitive approach for teaching cursive handwriting. Her mission: preserve cursive handwriting for the next generation.

I’ll let Linda take it from here in this guest post:

Linda+HeadshotWhy cursive handwriting still matters

By Linda Shrewsbury, CursiveLogic

The thing that drives me about the need for teaching cursive writing is the link between handwriting and cognitive development. It doesn’t matter whether adults use handwriting or not. Children need to write. It’s foundational for the development of their literacy.

Research has shown that writing by hand strengthens the learning process. According to the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre:

When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. This kind of feedback is significantly different from what we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.

My experience in the classroom has shown me how children’s literacy suffers when teaching them to write legibly is not a priority in the classroom. As the University of Stavanger study concluded, handwriting is a foundational skill.

We can’t replace how cursive handwriting is tied to literacy; the two really go together. It’s like taking the rungs from the bottom of a ladder; how do you master the first few steps in the learning process without all the rungs needed to climb and advance?

I was inspired to develop a more rapid system of teaching cursive through my work with a young man named Josh. He graduated from high school but couldn’t really read or write well. I became his reading tutor and was touched when Josh asked me also to teach him cursive so he could sign his name.

I didn’t think the traditional cursive curriculum for children would work for Josh because it required too much time. So I worked out a system that organized the lowercase cursive alphabet into four groups, based on shape and the initial cursive stroke that was common to each letter in the group. Using the patterns I showed him, Josh learned to form his lowercase cursive letters in 45 minutes. I then showed him his uppercase initials and he was able to sign his name. We were both stunned. It was incredible to see Josh catch on so quickly to forming and connecting cursive letters.

The ease with which I have seen many other students learn cursive — and the confidence and sense of accomplishment that follows — quashes the argument that cursive writing is too hard and time-consuming to learn.

My role with the BSA in this cursive-awareness effort is to help empower young people with a life skill that is going to be foundational to their academic work and their personal lives as well. Think about penning a love note, a note of condolence or congratulating a friend for a major accomplishment. Cursive writing humanizes us; it’s an individual skill and a unique way that we can express ourselves.

And think about the legacy we leave the next generation if we don’t teach them how to write and read the cursive hand of our founding fathers and ancestors? Our nation’s Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as well as treasured family histories and records could become no more than sheets of hieroglyphics for future generations to decipher.

The skill of cursive handwriting is worth preserving and passing on. I thank the BSA for the opportunity to join them in this important initiative.