In their eagerness to drag the schools and children of their states back to the early 20th century, legislators in North Carolina and South Carolina want to mandate the teaching of cursive writing. (North Carolina Los wants to pass a law mandating that all children memorize the multiplication tables.) these legislators usually spend their time coming up with ways to privatize public schools.

In this comment, handwriting expert Kate Gladstone explains why the cursive mandate is a bad idea.

Kate Gladstone writes:

The NC cursive bill is ill-advised and ill-motivated. Below are the most explainable reasons it is so: and all members of the NC Senate have by now received (from me and from some colleagues of mine(0) the same damning facts.)

By the way, I’ve recently learned that SOUTH Carolina has introduced [April 9th] an identically worded bill, against which I must now direct my efforts. The South Carolina bill is still in committee, and I am writing the committee-members an e-mail to try killing it there. For now, below) is my conclusion on the NC bill.

The originator of the “Back to Basics” bill, Rep. Pat Hurley (of Asheboro), has documentably committed misrepresentations during the presentation that she made, in support of that bill, to her fellow legislators.

Here is why I am concerned about Rep. Hurley with regard to this matter:

The extensive presentation already made to the legislature by the bill’s sponsor (Rep. Pat Hurley) documentably contains serious evasions or misrepresentations of fact. These are visible in the publicly available (WRAL-TV) video of her testimony — which was presumably under oath — to the North Carolina House Education Committee:

In her presentatio, Rep. Hurley asserts that the importance of cursive has been proven by research done by persons whom she identifies only as the “PET scan people.” She states that this research established that the human brain “doesn’t work” (direct quote) while one is keyboarding, and that “only one half” (direct quote) of the brain actually works while one is print-writing. (It takes cursive writing, she alleges, to allow the entire brain to work).

Since her presentation does not give a checkable source for that very surprising statement, I asked her office to please send me the research, or at least a citation that could back it up. The material she chose to send in response (which I will happily forward to anyone, on request: ) turns out, on inspection, to be seriously discrepant with the claims she makes to the House Education Committee about the research findings. (In other words: the research doesn’t say what she claims it says.) Specifically, the research she misrepresents — like other research, to be described and cited below — does not support her claim of a superiority for cursive or her claim of an essential role for cursive handwriting in education, and therefore it does not support a legislative mandate for cursive handwriting instruction.

In her presentation to the House Education Committee, Rep. Hurley denies the legality of signatures not written in cursive, which she describes as “no signatures” (direct quote), although the legality of these signatures is asserted and protected by the state and federal laws that she is sworn to uphold.

Specifically: a. The UCC 1-201(37) — North Carolina General Statutes § 25‑1‑201(37) — specifies that “‘Signed’ includes using any symbol executed or adopted with present intention to adopt or accept a writing.” b. Further, the North Carolina General Statutes 12-3(10) state, for use in statutes: “Provided, that in all cases where a written signature is required by law, the same shall be in a proper handwriting, or in a proper mark.” (Admittedly, Rep. Hurley may be choosing personally to exclude printed handwritings from the category of “a proper handwriting” — if so, she has not pointed to any legal defense or rationale for such exclusion.)

Yet another legally questionable representation made by Representative Hurley during her presentation to the House Education Committee is her claim that non-cursive handwritten signatures (e.g., printed signatures) need to be observed by two witnesses. In North Carolina, as in most states, the only signatures or marks needing witnesses are those made on a will (North Carolina General Statutes, Section 31, 3.3, on attested wills) — and in that case, two witnesses are required for all signatures (including, in other words, for cursive signatures as well as for non-cursive signatures).

Concerns other than misrepresentation of research include the significant body of research which has not been represented at all in the deliberations. This research — also forwardable by me on request — shows that the fastest, most legible handwriters do not join all letters, but only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping the others, and using print-like shapes for letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. Such facts throw a revealing light on efforts to mandate a form of handwriting which requires joining all letters and using different shapes for cursive versus printed letters.

Reading cursive, of course, matters vitally. However, cursive’s cheerleaders forget that one can learn to read a writing style without learning to produce it. (If we had to learn to write every style that we needed to read, we would have to learn to read and write all over again whenever anyone invented a new font.)

For this reason, it is odd that the documents most often adduced (as the presumed evidence that writing in a particular style is the only way to learn to read that style) are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Some material in each document — the Constitution’s “We the People,” for instance — is penned, not in any form of cursive at all, but in “Olde Englishe” Blackletter. Are Rep. Hurley and her supporters, crusading for cursive on the grounds that “you can’t learn to read it unless you write it,” going to call next for a mandate of “Olde Englishe” Blackletter in the elementary schools?
Reading cursive — when one does not have to learn how to write the same way — can be taught in 30 to 60 minutes to any small child who has learned to read ordinary printing. Why not just spend an inexpensive hour teaching children to read cursive — then use the time saved, and the money saved, to teach them to use some more practical form of handwriting themselves?

Most adults, after all, no longer use cursive.
In 2012, a survey of handwriting teachers (source available on request) attending a national conference sponsored by the Zaner-Bloser firm — a well-known handwriting publisher which strongly advocates for cursive — revealed that only 37 percent of these devotees of penmanship (fewer than two-fifths!) actually used cursive for their own handwriting; another 8 percent wrote in print. The majority — 55 percent — wrote a hybrid: some features of their handwriting resembled cursive, but other features of their handwriting resembled print-writing (This compares well with the research noted above, on the handwriting habits of highly effective handwriters.) Knowing this, why (and how) prioritize cursive?

The idolatrous worship cursive is not supported by fact, or by law, or by common sense. Neither should it be supported by a legislative mandate.
Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
and the World Handwriting Contest