Cursive a foreign language for some: State requires lessons, but script’s popularity has waned

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The Declaration of Independence is written in it, so is the Constitution and its first 10 amendments.

But many young people can’t read it in its original form.

Cursive, the swirly form of penmanship that was part of elementary students’ curriculum throughout the 20th century, was excluded from Common Core standards in 2010.

But after a hiatus from elementary education, cursive writing is making a comeback.

The 2013 “Back to Basics” state law added cursive to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.

“As all North Carolina schools, we follow the standard course of study, and at one time, back when I was teaching, cursive writing was a part of the standard course of study,” said Cheryl Wilson, associate superintendent of Wilson County Schools. “Then there was a time when the standards were edited, and the revision of it did not explicitly state cursive writing. Now, after the new revision of the standards, there has been a reintroduction of cursive writing in our North Carolina standards.”

Wilson said that in her opinion, the No. 1 reason to teach reading and writing in cursive is for historic documents.

“Not understanding how to read cursive reading, I think that is a part of history that our students are missing,” Wilson said.

In Wilson County, cursive is usually taught to students in second and third grade.

“I taught cursive writing for 16 years,” Wilson said. “I also saw students who I would spend teaching cursive writing to, and as soon as they had a chance to not use cursive writing, they went back to print. Once you learn to write in it, you get the feel of what is easy for you, but most importantly, whether you want to print or write in cursive, I think you need to be able to read it. That’s a language that I don’t want our students to lose out on.”

It’s not just national historical documents. It could also be something like letters between family members and other communications that would not be understood if the child didn’t have the ability to read in cursive.

“My own grandchildren, I don’t really care whether they print or write in cursive, but I do want them, when they want to read some of our historical documents, that they have the ability to decipher that and that it is not locked away from them and someone else has to decipher for them,” Wilson said.

When Lucama Elementary School fourth grade teacher Brittany Phillips grades her students’ papers, she makes her margin notes in print.

“I have a terrible cursive handwriting,” said Phillips, who is Wilson County Schools Teacher of the Year. “It takes me forever, and I guarantee you that 90% of them say they can’t read cursive. Now they love to write their name on the top of their page in cursive, but they say they can’t read it.”

“The only time I ever wrote in cursive was when I took the SAT and had to write that paragraph on the back of the paper,” Phillips said. “We just closed on our house, and I didn’t have to sign my name on anything. I just clicked and it signed it for me in cursive. You just click and it signs it for you. But I think it is a skill that kids need.”

Marquis Spell, Springfield Middle School principal, signs report cards each nine weeks.

Sometimes he will write little notes like “Good job” or “Good improvement” or “Keep working on this.”

Those notations are in print, or “pursive,” a combination of print and cursive.

“Most of the time it’s print so they can understand what I am trying to tell them,” said Spell, who is Wilson County Schools’ Principal of the Year. “I know my signature is cursive.”

Spell said students need to know cursive at least to sign their checks.

For Hunt High School science teacher Will Edwards, the main reason for students needing to know cursive is to be able to read the Declaration of Independence and other historic documents.

“I know you can get it online, but we are making a large assumption that we’ll always have power and electricity,” Edwards said. “If something were to happen and those documents still existed, they need to know how to read those historical documents.”

Edwards said some of his students cannot sign their names in cursive.

“We’ve got a group that have never learned it,” Edwards said.

Spell still has faith in the newer generation’s ability to read and understand old documents.

“If they have a computer, I bet there is a program that if they take a picture of it and send it in, it will translate it,” Spell said. “They can translate everything else. These kids will write a program and do it.”