Bill Would Mandate Cursive Writing for NJ Elementary School Students

By Michael Hill

“We need to make a decision in the state of New Jersey whether we want our students in our public school systems to know how to to read and write cursive or not,” said Assemblyman Ron Dancer.

Dancer of Ocean County says a 2012 School Boards Association study showed slightly more than half of the state’s districts taught cursive writing and reading. Cursive as in the written word of the Declaration of Independence and other documents in the founding of the democracy, cursive as in letters connected to other letters and cursive as in an old style of writing that’s disappearing in the digital age.

Dancer reintroduced a bill with bipartisan support to mandate New Jersey’s public elementary schools teach cursive so students can write and read it by the end of third grade. He fears as more districts don’t teach cursive, the harder it will become to mandate it as a necessity.

“So I think that this is a critical time,” Dancer said.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea to insure that cursive writing does not go by the wayside as something unnecessary,” said teacher Kimberly Crane.

Crane has been teaching for 17 years. She says she supports the bill because it doesn’t require any cursive testing and because research has shown cursive has benefits.

“The studies have shown that students develop very advanced skills with cursive writing, even more so than with printing and it’s different than typing it’s a different and advance way to communicate that we shouldn’t lose,” she said.

A 2014 Princeton-UCLA study found when college students take notes by laptop instead of writing in cursive, “they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing.” And the study concludes, “laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and re-framing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

Keith Kline of Handwriting Without Tears is teaching these teachers and occupational therapists how to teach cursive writing in fun ways.

“You think about this. There are workbooks there are programs for science, social studies, reading and math but the one thing they all have in common is handwriting and what’s the one thing that nobody teaches? It’s handwriting,” he said.

While opponents of mandating cursive instruction in school seem to be few in New Jersey, a 2012 Star-Ledger editorial said, “New Jersey is right to no longer require cursive in public schools.” And since the decision to teach it is up to local districts, “schools should eliminate it entirely from their regular lessons. It may be good for brain development. But it’s still a waste of time.”

The editorial concludes, “Hieroglyphics were lovely, too. But we don’t use those any more. Instead, students should spend that time learning to type — or even text — more efficiently.”

The editorial states if students can’t read the Declaration of Independence because it’s in cursive, no problem, they can just download it from the internet.

“We’ve gotten away from a lot of things that may not be the right thing to do,” Kline said.

Assemblyman Dancer finds encouragement in the debate because he says at least five other states have mandated cursive instruction in schools.

“This trend is just beginning,” he said.

Lawmakers never acted on Dancer’s other cursive writing bill.