Cursive Writing Bill Back In The Loop

Posted On January 22, 2014

By Mike Perleberg

cursive-writing-student-2.jpg(Indianapolis, Ind.) – A local lawmaker is again pushing to restore cursive writing as a requirement in Indiana’s classrooms.

In 2011, the Indiana Department of Education got rid of cursive writing as a requirement in its core curriculum. Thy they no longer have to, many schools in the state have made the decision to continue teaching the handwriting skill to grade schoolers.

State Senator Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) has for the third straight year co-authored a bill to make cursive writing and reading instruction a requirement for all school corporations and non-accredited elementary schools.

While Indiana code requires schools to teach language arts, reading is not specifically mentioned.

The Senate Education and Career Development Committee passed the legislation, Senate Bill 113, by an 8-2 vote on January 15. It is set to be considered by the full Senate, where it has passed each of the past two years.

However, SB 113 may face a tougher road to passage in the House, where it was both times defeated.



In each of Senator Leising's two previous attempts to mandate cursive handwriting (2012 and 2013) she has publicly made erroneous statements in order to gain support. These statements were made to the Indiana media and, in at least one instance, were made under oath to her fellow legislators during her testimony in defense of her cursive bill.



In 2012, Leising's erroneous claim to her fellow legislators was that cursive was supported by an Indiana University research study ("Neural Correlates of Handwriting" by Dr. Karin Harman-James). The senator had handed out this study to her fellow legislators as she introduced the bill — after adding to the study a front-page statement (or "abstract"), written by her and replacing the study's original abstract. Senator Leising's added material, and her description of the study as she introduced the bill, asserted that the study had compared printing with cursive and that it had found advantages for cursive. The fact, however, is that the study had not even involved cursive. When legislators and other recipients of her claims went beyond the first page, then looked up the study themselves, they quickly found that the study had been a comparison of printing with keyboarding (and that printing had come out ahead).


In 2013, her second attempt, Leising stated in the legislature (in a dramatic assertion that was picked up by her state's media) that research done by "the SAT people" (her phrase) had shown that SAT examinees who used cursive on the test's essay section got 15% higher scores. Again, a check of sources (in this case, inquiries to the SAT/College Board administrators, made by me and apparently by other persons) swiftly revealed that Leising's claim diverged from the facts.

The score gap between print-using and cursive-using examinees, it turned out, was not 15% or anywhere near that —but was a mere one-fifth of a point (0.2 points) and was on the essay portion alone: so small a difference that it is, for instance, less than the score difference between male and female students taking the same exam. (The only "15%" anywhere in the research was the percentage of students who used cursive rather than in some other form of handwriting.)

It remains to be asked why she has allowed her two previous efforts to rely on misquotation and misrepresentation to her fellow legislators and to the other citizens of Indiana. Let us focus on this year.

What has she claimed _this_ time?

/a/ While she still talks about "research," she has stopped providing any traceable source. Perhaps she is finding it easier to make statements without a traceable source than to use identifiable sources (whose misrepresentation, too, can be identified).

/b/ She has now started claiming that cursive writing is important because (she tells her audiences) joining letters is what causes us to read from left to right. It would hurt her case — perhaps it would hurt her feelings — if her audiences recollected that the left-to-right direction of our alphabet existed for centuries (at least) before handwriting began to join. Certainly, children are taught to read (and often become very good at it) years before they are taught to join letters: even texting, which is definitely not cursive and whose practitioners are often life-long print-writers, goes as thoroughly left-to-right as any other form of the written language.

/c/ Further, Senator Leising has now stated that she doesn't care whether children (or, presumably, other people) can write their own names decipherably, as long as they are doing it in cursive.

When she learned that half of the cursive signatures on a college petition supporting cursive were indecipherable, she did not think that this detracted from her trust in cursive as a literacy cure-all.

She merely noted — correctly, as it happens — that even an illegible signature is legally valid: the point of a signature, as she says, is to produce "an identifiable mark."

Unfortunately for Senator Leising, this fact — and her recognition of it — demolishes one of her own arguments for cursive: the argument which she used throughout 2012 and 2013, and is using this year too.

Ever since beginning her cursive crusade, Leising has publicly asserted that an important reason for cursive was to make signatures legally valid. That is a common supposition about cursive, because it is a supposition that is taught as fact by many of the people who teach cursive.

However, as Senator Leising has now herself admitted, what legally matters is not the form of the handwriting used — cursive, printed, or one of the many hybrids, good or bad — but whether the signature is "an identifiable mark."

Printed handwriting — or the print/cursive handwriting hybrid that so many good writers form, and that some are taught from the beginning — is as identifiable a "mark" as anything festooned with loops and ceaseless joining.

Examiners of questioned documents, for instance, inform me that the most identifiable and individual signatures are the plainest — including those that are printed, or partly printed, in form.

_All_ writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, a few months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student produced it.

Senator Leising is, at any rate, persistent. When one misstatement will not serve her purpose, she easily drops it and finds — or creates — another.

Let us assume, for the moment, that her repeated misstatements, and her scooting from one to another, may be entirely acceptable to the legislature of Indiana and to the citizenry whom they represent. Even so, in this third year of Leising's efforts her case remains singularly devoir of evidence. Her assertions on research have changed from the documentably non-factual (in 2012 and 2014) to the undocumented and presumably undocumentable. Her assertions on signatures have changed from endorsing a popular error (the belief that signatures must require cursive) to admitting that a signature is an "identifiable mark" (yet deciding, somehow, that her case is supported nonetheless.

Good handwriting is a rare thing. Good handwriting in cursive — or even reasonably legible, reasonably fluent handwriting in cursive — is rarer than it is in any of the other forms of handwriting in use today. The rarity of good handwriting, in cursive, is no argument in favor of requiring schoolchildren (or anyone else) to write that way.

Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

Kate Gladstone / HandwritingThatWorks.com


Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources on request.)

Reading cursive matters, but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. (In fact, now there's even an iPad app to teach how: named "Read Cursive," of course — http://appstore.com/readcursive .) So why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, including some handwriting style that's actually typical of effective handwriters?

Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority — 55 percent — wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why revere it? Why exalt it, let alone mandate it?