Although some schools spend little time on cursive handwriting lessons, studies show a connection between cursive writing and brain development.
Many would agree with first-century Roman writer Marcus Quintilianus that “too slow a hand impedes the mind,” However, modern education professionals seem to believe that promoting keyboard fluency will do as much to develop the minds of their students as traditional handwriting lessons once did. While students do need to be digitally competent to succeed, teachers need to continue to teach cursive handwriting according to much of the research.
Writing Cursive and the Brain
“There's some pretty powerful evidence of changes in the brain that occur as the result of learning to overcome a motor challenge," says Rand Nelson of Peterson Directed Handwriting. The act of physically gripping a pen or pencil and practicing the swirls, curls and connections of cursive handwriting activates parts of the brain that lead increase language fluency.
This idea is echoed by Iris Hatfield, creator of the New American Cursive program. She also believes in the connection between handwriting and brain development. “Cursive improves neural connections in the brain, “ she writes. She stresses that physiological movement of writing cursive letters “help build pathways in the brain while improving mental effectiveness.” This increased effectiveness may continue throughout a child's academic career.
R. Shadmehr and H. Holcomb of Johns Hopkins University published a study in Science Magazine showing that their subject's brains actually changed in reaction to physical instruction such as cursive handwriting lessons. The researchers provided PET scans as evidence of these changes in brain structure. Further, they also demonstrated that these changes resulted in an “almost immediate improvement in fluency,” which led to later development of neural pathways. As a result of practicing motor skills, the researchers found, knowledge becomes more stable.
Cursive Letters and the Development of Knowledge
As information replaces industry in the marketplace, parents, educators and students themselves have come to place more emphasis on the development of knowledge over the development of physical skills. Those who work with their hands are considered less valuable than those who work with their bodies in many sections of our society.
As a result, schools place less emphasis on physical instruction such as cursive handwriting lessons. However, this is a mistake, according to experts like Frank Wilson. “You can't really separate what's in the mind from what's in the body. Knowledge really is the whole behavior of the whole organism. “
Wilson is a neurologist whose book “The Hand: How Its Use Shapes The Brain, Language, And Human Culture” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. Although he does appreciate the current emphasis on relevant education, he is clear that teachers should not try to “educate the mind by itself.” If lessons do not involve the hands and the body in full movement, much of the knowledge will be poorly processed and inadequately learned.
Therefore, teachers need to continue to encourage the development of motor skills. Though the repetitive drills that accompany cursive handwriting lessons may seem outdated, such physical instruction will help students to succeed. These activities stimulate brain activity, lead to increased language fluency and aid in the development of important knowledge. Cursive handwriting practice may not be popular, but it is useful in many ways according to a great deal of research. Cursive writing should continue to be part of primary education.