North Carolina’s ‘Back to Basics’ Education Revives Cursive Handwriting

by Lindsey Grudnicki

One month after the New York Times hosted the “Is Cursive Dead?” debate, North Carolina declared that cursive is very much alive. House Bill 146, nicknamed the “Back to Basics” bill, was given final approval by the state senate last Thursday and awaits Governor Pat McCrory’s signature. The bill requires public elementary schools to instruct students in cursive writing so that kids can “create readable documents through legible cursive handwriting by the end of fifth grade.”

The national Common Core Standards for English Language Arts do not include any mention of handwriting, so the 45 states who have adopted the standards are left to pass supplementary legislation to cover the exclusion. North Carolina is just one of at least ten states that have considered requiring or recommending that students be taught to write in cursive.

The “Back to Basics” act, effective this upcoming school year, will also mandate that students “memorize multiplication tables.” The national standards require that students know how to solve problems using multiplication and division by Grade 3 but offer no recommendation of how those operations are to be taught in schools. Critics of the bill have called it an example of legislative overreach in the classroom, but supporters suggest that it merely aims to ensure that schools are teaching the time-honored “basics” of elementary education.

While handwriting expert Kate Gladstone has argued that “mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring,” there is something to be said for the teaching of cursive. Students should be able to read the script of this country’s historical documents, and the fine-tuning of writing as a motor skill can never hurt, as many professions — despite the triumph of the digital age — still require legible, fast notation.