FILE PHOTO: cursive writing in ink. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

A recent study by scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology concluded something I suspected to be true: cursive writing promotes learning more than typing on a keyboard. They used electroencephalogram brain sensors to look at the brain activity of 36 students when they were writing by hand in cursive style and when they were using a computer keyboard.

By common research standards, a sample size of only 36 is sub-standard and critics will pick up on that number right away. A thorough statistical analysis of the entire study results, methodology and outstanding variables is necessary to properly assess its validity and reliability. But without that opportunity, I found myself nodding in agreement as I read the abstract of the study. It told me what I have always thought about the value of cursive handwriting versus keyboarding or even printing block letters.

A co-author of the study, Audrey van der Meer reports: “Our findings suggest that visual and movement information obtained through precisely controlled hand movements when using a pen contribute extensively to the brain’s connectivity patterns that promote learning.” She went on to say that, “We showed that when writing by hand, brain connectivity patterns are far more elaborate than when typewriting on a keyboard.”

One of the goals of this study was to encourage schools to more often assign homework to be done in handwritten form versus typed. The authors also suggested that universities should encourage students to take notes in class by hand instead of laptops. I am going to express complete agreement with this conclusion. I am an average typist as far as words per minute goes, but I can take handwritten notes much quicker. I find it interesting that my handwriting is different (better, if you ask me) when I write in pencil versus ink. Must be something about the coefficient of friction between the lead and the paper.

None of my children write in cursive. At least not that I have ever witnessed. A big contrast to how I grew up with a mom who had feminine, flowery, flowing handwriting that was distinctive. A common reply to me from her, when I wandered around the house complaining of boredom and stood staring into the fridge abyss for sustenance, was often one of two suggestions: “Go work on a merit badge,” or “Sit down and practice your handwriting.” Sometimes I took her advice and filled pages of a notebook with the cursive drills from school, those loops and swoops that the teacher had us do over and over and over. She must have suggested the same to my middle brother Scott as he has very distinct and noble handwriting. Craig, however, and my dad, missed the boat on that skill. I might blame Craig’s scribble on him being left handed, but we all know that only left handed people are in their “right minds.”

The information gleaned from this study took my thoughts to extrapolating about those smaller keyboards we carry around and bury our faces in, no matter where we are or what we are doing. Cellphones, iPads, and other devices for gaming, social media and even necessary job duties and family communication. How many times have you been in a restaurant or waiting room and everyone present is looking down at their phones? I am as guilty as anyone. I find it much easier during a busy work day to communicate with others via texting in order to avoid being tied up with a long phone conversation. It reminds me of a previous column I wrote about the pen being mightier than the phone (ISJ June 23, 2023).

I am thankful that this device addiction and social media platforms were not integrated into our society back when I was raising my children. I feel sorry for parents and teachers who have to fight that battle now in homes and schools. I wonder how things would change or be different if we still taught cursive writing in school thereby putting more emphasis on that form of communication instead of a keyboard. I have been told by a few local teachers that cursive writing is still addressed but not at the level of the past. I would encourage our public schools to put more emphasis on cursive writing. We do not need the Idaho legislature to pass a bill…just make it a local school policy and do it. And parents need to back up and support that effort.

I opine all this as I sit here using a keyboard. What a hypocrite!

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