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Is cursive writing important to child development?
Legislators push to keep cursive in their schools' curricula, but experts seem split as to whether it's necessary.
- Ohio has joined many other states in reestablishing cursive in their schools' curricula.
- Research shows the value handwriting has for developing children's fine motor skills and a connection between words and memory.
- But experts seem split on whether it's a question of print vs. cursive, or cognitive fluency vs. disconnect.
Cursive is set for a comeback.
Last month, the Ohio State Legislature added cursive to the Ohio Department of Education's English language arts standards. House Bill 58 requires the department to include supplemental materials on developing handwriting "as a universal skill," with print learned by third grade and legible cursive by fifth. With this bill, Ohio joins the more than a dozen states who have adopted such legislation after Common-Core standards dropped cursive as a requirement.
"It seemed we had made a decision that was arrogant on our part that we didn't think these kids needed something that we had taken for granted, that was our way of communicating for generations," Beth Mizell, a Louisiana state senator, told the Washington Post. In 2016, Louisiana passed an even more thorough bill than Ohio's, requiring cursive instruction continue through the 12th grade.
Cursive's purpose in an era of typing and voice recognition software has dwindled. Even the signature, cursive's seemingly unassailable bastion, has proved less sound thanks to PIN numbers and touchpads that turn any autograph into a symbolic work of abstract art.
For most of us, that thought elicits one of two responses. Either we bristle at the thought of a future generation's not knowing cursive's lovely, flowing script. Or we cheer at the idea, remembering the jeers of teachers past at our blocky, yet readable, print.
Unfortunately, such reactions are seldom derived from an understanding of the research and more often the joy or trauma we experienced when learning cursive. That goes for the legislators, too.
Of course, we can teach children cursive, but does it provide any developmentally benefit to do so?
Handwriting and its proponents
Handwriting, whether in cursive or not, has been shown to help students develop conceptual understanding better than those who use laptops to take notes in class. Image source: Flickr
To start, it's worth pointing out that some people conflate cursive and handwriting as synonymous, and that's not the case. Handwriting is as an ink-bound idiolect; everyone's is different. Some people print exclusively, others use cursive, and many have formed an amalgam of the two (a category that can broadly be called D'Nealian).
If we look at handwriting, not explicitly cursive, there's little doubt that it is important to child development. A study published in Trends in Neuroscience and Education has preliterate five-year-old children either print, type, or trace letters and shapes. They then underwent an MRI scan while being shown the image again. The researchers found that a "reading circuit" fired up only in the children who drew the letter or shape freehand—not the children who typed or traced it.
The brain activity exhibited by the handwriting children was in the same areas of the brain adults use to read and write. Study author Karin James notes that handwriting required the children to first plan and then execute the action, steps not necessary when typing or tracing. The end results were also messy and variable, which James believes may provide a learning benefit.
The advantages of handwriting appear to extend beyond initially learning to read and write. A 2014 paper in Psychological Science compared students who took notes longhand to those who took them on a laptop. The laptop students performed worse on conceptual questions. The researchers theorized the difference resulted from the way longhand notes force us to process and then reframe information.
They were also careful to compare notetaking with notetaking. The laptop's ability to curb our conceptual capacity through multitasking and distraction was well-documented in other studies.
"I think this may be another case where we should be careful that the lure of the digital world doesn't take away significant experiences that can have real impacts on children's rapidly developing brains," wrote Perri Klass, M.D., for the New York Times. "Mastering handwriting, messy letters and all, is a way of making written language your own, in some profound ways."
None of this is to say that typing is detrimental. Handwriting proponents simply argue that students shouldn't skip over handwriting and go directly to typing.
For her article, Klass spoke with Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology, University of Washington. Berninger recommends children become "hybrid writers," learning first print for reading, then cursive for spelling, and then typing for speed. Berninger also points out that typing may strengthen cross-communication in the brain since children use both hands.
Arguments against cursive
Some argue that if students don't learn cursive they won't be able to read historical documents like the Declaration of Independence. But does learning cursive really make that easier? Image source: Flickr
Cursive is considered to grant three advantages to students: speed, comprehension, and fine motor skills. As the theory goes, when writers lift the pen from the page less frequently, they can write more words per minute, getting their thoughts on the page faster. The comprehension argument supposes students who cannot write cursive cannot read it, hindering them from understanding historical documents.
"But the real reason cursive is fading is that the arguments in favor of it are pretty weak," writes Vox news editor Libby Nelson. "They usually center on students being able to read the Constitution and Declaration of Independence (which were originally written in copperplate script, and are hard to decipher even for people who studied cursive in school) or on developing fine motor skills, which can also be cultivated in other ways."
As for speed, typing is significantly faster once mastered.
Anne Trubek, author of The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, argues that early education should supplant cursive with "cognitive automaticity" — that is, "the ability to make letters without conscious effort." She suggests that keyboards are excellent tools for such learning and grant additional benefits to students with poor handwriting and those with fine-motor disabilities. To back up her claims, she points to studies showing students are writing longer, more rhetorically complex essays than past generations, despite fewer writing in cursive.
"People talk about the decline of handwriting as if it's proof of the decline of civilization," writes Trubek, in a New York Times op-ed. "But if the goal of public education is to prepare students to become successful, employable adults, typing is inarguably more useful than handwriting. [And] there seems to be no difference in benefits between printing and cursive."
The cursive quandary
Is cursive writing obsolete? Perhaps a better question is whether cursive is important to helping children communicate ideas clearly. Image source: PxHere
But does cursive offer more cognitive boons than print, or is it simply more pleasing to the eye? Here experts have struggled to make a definitive case, but there is some evidence to suggest that cursive may bestow developmental gains.
A study published in Language and Literacy found that cursive demonstrated improved students' spelling, text construction, and graphic-motor skills. Interestingly, study author Professor Isabelle Montésinos-Gelet noted that children were better off learning either print or cursive, as the print-cursive method demonstrated the worst results for students by limiting the acquisition of automatic motor skills.
It's worth pointing out that these findings aren't robust (yet). They can be contradictory, too. Dr. Berninger's "hybrid writers" idea seems in opposition to Montésinos-Gelet's argument against a joint approach. One of the reasons for this, as noted by Karin Harman James, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, is that it is difficult to find children whose educational backgrounds only differ in handwriting style.
"There is no conclusive evidence that there is a benefit for learning cursive for a child's cognitive development," she told Nautilus.
What are we to do then when it comes to schools' curricula? Scott Beers, an associate professor and chair of the master of education in literacy program at Seattle Pacific University, has a suggestion.
"I want to reframe the question," Beers writes. "Instead of asking which form of writing to teach, we should ask what we most want for our students as they learn to write. What's the end goal?"
For Beers, that end goal should be to help students express their ideas clearly. How they transcribe those ideas is less important than the ideas themselves. He argues that students need to learn to write by hand and develop handwriting fluency—whether that fluency come from print, cursive, or an idiosyncratic D'Nealian script.
"I don't think one form is 'better' than the other — research is thin and far from conclusive — but mastering two forms requires twice the time and effort, and is particularly challenging for those with writing difficulties," he adds.
In this light, Ohio and Louisiana's legislation is far too sweeping. It may be worth introducing students to cursive, and students who find it appealing can certainly master it, but requiring legible cursive by fifth grade—let alone mandating it until twelfth—says more about the legislative's desire to polish the patina off a cultural artifact than an understanding of child development.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.