Many of us have mourned the lost art of good penmanship in part due to the disappearance of cursive instruction from school curriculums. But there’s good news — it’s back! California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law in October 2023 that will go into effect in January 2024, mandating cursive writing be taught in state school for grades one through six.
What Happened to Cursive?
Good handwriting has been considered a status symbol since the time of the ancient Romans. It meant one had the wealth, privilege, and time to access education. The Romans originally borrowed elements of the Etruscan alphabet to develop an early form of written script to document financial transactions and correspond with one another. These styles of penmanship were refined over centuries until the American educational system standardized the instruction of cursive English in the 19th century. Cities grew and job opportunities began to crop up outside of fields and factories, so having good penmanship meant access to better employment.
However, by the beginning of the 20th century, new technologies (namely the typewriter) foreshadowed the obsolescence of cursive writing. They crept into classrooms in the 1930s, eventually to be replaced by computers in the late 1980s. Computers became more pervasive, and educators came to realize that — much in the same way good penmanship was a shortcut to better employment opportunities — the young people of the late 20th and early 21st centuries would need computer literacy and typing skills to compete in the job market. With that evolution, cursive instruction fell out of curriculum.
The Cursive Comeback
As quickly as the joined writing style seemed to drop out of vogue, it’s coming back into classrooms. Most recently, in October 2023, California Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 446 into law, which mandates that cursive be taught in public schools to students in grades one through six. This legislation was authored by California Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva. She explained the bill’s primary objective was to equip students with cursive skills to improve their ability to read primary source historical documents. She became cognizant of this need doing her own family historical research on the genetic testing and ancestry service 23andMe.
It’s not just a fad: Research shows that writing notes by hand activates multiple brain regions associated with optimized memory, much more so than taking notes using a digital device. Many educators are arguing that this instruction is crucial in the development of fine motor skills.
As of late 2023, the number of states mandating cursive instruction has grown to 18. In addition to California, they include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
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