Senator pushes for mandatory cursive curriculum, again

By Megan Powell

INDIANAPOLIS – Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, continues the fight to place cursive writing back into the curriculum after the Indiana Department of Education made cursive optional in 2011.

Wednesday afternoon, the Education and Career Development committee met to discuss Senate Bill 73. If passed, this bill would add cursive writing back into the elementary curriculum for third and fourth grade as well as mandating reading cursive.

“The Common Core curriculum does not include cursive writing. So people that were concerned about us meeting this Common Core curriculum were focused on what’s going to be included and tested on, and they are not going to be tested on cursive writing,” Leising said.

Leising argued more cursive is being taught in private elementary schools than in public elementary schools nationwide. She believes this would prove to be a disadvantage to students coming out of public elementary schools.

“I think learning cursive is a vital part of growing up, especially during grade school,” Michael Kummer, a senior at Franklin Community High School, said. “Just think how many times you sign your name.”

“I don’t care if they can sign their name or not,” Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, said about his children signing their name in cursive.

Committee members had mixed feelings on the issue, with a strong opposition from Yoder.

As Indiana keeps debating SB 73, about half dozen states have made the move already to make cursive writing mandatory.

“It’s very important for children to write in cursive because they won’t be able to read historic documents,” Amanda Krause, elementary student teacher, said.

Leising asked members of the committee to look at the issue, not only looking at the issue on a state level, but on a global platform. She said Mexico recently reinstated cursive writing in their curriculum.

This bill continues to be a topic of discussion, after four years of the original reading.

“I think that it passed in four previous sessions, so this would be the fifth session,” Leising said. “Each time it passes the Senate and each time Representative Behning who is the House Education Chairman, does not give it a hearing and kills it.”

A committee vote was not taken on SB 73 Wednesday.

Megan Powell is a reporter for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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One Response to Senator pushes for mandatory cursive curriculum, again

  1. I am a handwriting teacher and remediator, working nationwide and internationally.
    Further, I direct the World Handwriting Contest.
    You might therefore expect me to support Senator Leising’s bill proposing a mandate for cursive.

    However, I oppose her bill — as I have done ever since 2012 when she first introduced it.
    Here is why.

    Handwriting matters …
    but does cursive matter?

    Research has long documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are available on request.)

    Current research demonstrates that the fastest, clearest handwriters are neither the print-writers nor the cursive writers. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all of them — making only the simplest of joins, omitting the rest, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

    Although most research on this matter is recent, handwriting that unites the best elements of cursive and printing existed long before computers and cellphones (which the editorial assumes to have somehow caused it all). In fact, the first handwriting textbooks ever published in our alphabet (500 years ago) taught a semi-joined, print-like style. What we, today, call “cursive” did not even begin to arise until sometime in the Baroque Era — although people like Senator Leising prefer their audiences to believe that writing decorated with loops and ceaseless joins must have been around before any of the other (and often better) ways of writing by hand.

    What matters about cursive is the ability to read it — and even children can be taught to read handwriting that they are not taught to replicate. Reading cursive can (and should) be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. (In fact, now there’s even an iPad app to teach how: named “Read Cursive,” of course.) Let’s teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as some handwriting style that is actually typical of effective handwriters.

    When someone asks: “What about signatures?” —here’s a fact that Leising and other devotees of cursive hope you’ll never learn: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

    Senator Leising ignores — and possibly assumes that her constituents will ignore — the truth that educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why mandate it?

    A look at Senator Leising’s legislative record on the subject is instructive. She has tried for several years to have her preference for cursive enshrined in state law. Her bill has been rejected, year after year, by the House Education Committee — even though, the last time around, in her desperation she unsuccessfully resorted to sneaking it around to every other House Committee, from Agriculture right down to Ways & Means: again, without success
    So, this year she is trying again. Now as in previous years, concerned citizens must ask themselves —and their Senators and Representatives — a question that Senator Leising has never answered: Why should the legislature pass a bill whose introducer has documentably set herself at variance with the facts?

    In Senator Leising’s long series of previous attempts to mandate cursive handwriting (early 2012, early 2013, early 2014, and early 2015), she has publicly made erroneous statements about research in order to gain support. These statements have been made to the Indiana media and, in at least one instance, a statement of this sort was made under oath: to her fellow legislators during her testimony in defense of her cursive bill.


    —– In 2012, Leising’s erroneous claim to her fellow legislators was that cursive was supported by an Indiana University research study (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James). The senator had handed out this study to her fellow legislators as she introduced the bill — after adding to the study a front-page statement (or “abstract”), written by her and replacing the study’s original abstract. Senator Leising’s added material, and her description of the study as she introduced the bill, asserted that the study had compared printing with cursive and that it had found advantages for cursive. The fact, however, is that the study had not even involved cursive. When legislators and other recipients of her claims went beyond the first page, then looked up the study themselves, they quickly found that the study had been a comparison of printing with keyboarding (and that printing had come out ahead).

    —– In 2013, her second attempt, Leising stated in the legislature (in a dramatic assertion that was picked up by her state’s media) that research done by “the SAT people” (her phrase) had shown that SAT examinees who used cursive on the test’s essay section got 15% higher scores. Again, a check of sources (in this case, inquiries to the SAT/College Board administrators, made by me and apparently by other persons) swiftly revealed that Leising’s claim diverged from the facts.
    The score gap between print-using and cursive-using examinees, it turned out, was not 15% or anywhere near that — but was a mere one-fifth of a point (0.2 points) and was on the essay portion alone: so small a difference that it is, for instance, less than the score difference between male and female students taking the same exam. (The only “15%” anywhere in the research was the percentage of students who used cursive rather than in some other form of handwriting.)

    —— In 2014, while she still talked about “research,” she stopped providing any traceable source. She invoked, instead, unnamed “child psychologists … locally and nationwide.”(l am quoting from her own words, as she addressed the public on this subject).
    Beginning in early 2014, I have taken Leising’s quote to psychologists and psychological associations in Indiana, and throughout the USA, and abroad. So far, I have not found even one psychologist (including any child psychologist) who holds the position on cursive that (Leising tells us) child psychologists hold. Perhaps Leising finds it easier to make public statements without a traceable source than to use identifiable sources (as she has in the past) whose misrepresentation, too, can be identified.

    —— Also in 2014, Senator Leising started claiming that cursive writing is important because (she tells her audiences) joining letters is what causes us to read from left to right. It would hurt her case — perhaps it would hurt her feelings — if her audiences recollected that the left-to-right direction of our alphabet existed for centuries (at least) before handwriting began to join. Certainly, children are taught to read (and often become very good at it) years before they are taught to join letters: even texting, which is definitely not cursive and whose practitioners are often life-long print-writers, goes as thoroughly left-to-right as any other form of the written language.

    —— Further, Senator Leising in 2014 actually told the Indiana newspapers that she doesn’t care whether children (or, presumably, other people) can write their own names decipherably — just as long as they are writing those name in cursive. Why should someone who regards indecipherability as acceptable — just as long as it is performed in oursive — receive, or expect, support for her promotion of cursive?
    ln 2014, when Leising learned that half of the cursive signatures on a college petition supporting her bill on cursive were indecipherable, she did not think that this detracted from her trust in cursive as a literacy cure-all. She merely noted — correctly, as it happens — that even an illegible signature is legally valid: the point of a signature, as she says, is to produce “an identifiable mark.”

    —— Unfortunately for Senator Leising, this fact — and her recognition of it — demolishes one of her own favorite arguments for cursive: the argument which she tried to use throughout 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, and therefore is likely to try using this year to.
    Ever since beginning her cursive crusade, Leising has publicly asserted that an important reason for cursive was to make signatures legally valid. That is a common supposition about cursive, because it is a supposition that is taught as fact by many of the people who teach cursive.
    However, as Senator Leising herself admitted in her 2014 efforts, what legally matters is not the form of the handwriting used — cursive, printed, or one of the many hybrids, good or bad — but whether the signature is “an identifiable mark.” Printed handwriting — or the print/cursive handwriting hybrid that so many good writers form, and that some are taught from the beginning — is as identifiable a “mark” as anything festooned with loops and ceaseless joining.
    Examiners of questioned documents, for instance, inform me that the most individual and identifiable signatures and handwritings — those that most thoroughly and reliably confound forgers — are the plainest: including those that are printed, or partly printed, in form.

    —– In 2015, Leising finally gave up entirely on using sources: misquoted or not. (Maybe it is no longer worth the effort to misquote anything, when one is repeatedly caught doing so.) Her case, if she ever had any case, has thereby shriveled to vestigial proportions — She vaguely claims that research proves that cursive makes you smarter, without even bothering to find and cite a source — as she can no longer evade the reality that there is no source which can be correctly cited, or that can be undetectably misquoted, to support her favorite claim.

    Senator Leising is, at any rate, persistent. When one misstatement will not serve her purpose, she easily drops it and finds — or creates — another. When the relevant committee rejects her bill, she tries to maneuver the bill into a committee to which that bill is irrelevant. When she cannot find actual research to support her position, she misquotes research — or relies on the efforts of others who have done the same. Why is such shuffling and inaccuracy to be rewarded — particularly when the goal is to impose a handwriting system of questionable utility, of declining use, and of negligible usefulness?

    Yours for better letters,
    Kate Gladstone • 518-482-6763
    165 NORTH ALLEN STREET — First Floor
    Albany, NY 12206-1706
    Director, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works