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Correspondence
I’ll tell you out front that this isn’t a list post. Or it’s not just a list post.

My wife, as I occasionally mention, is an elementary school teacher, and I’ve absorbed enough about education over the last decade that I think I could pass a credentialing exam on the first try. We also get plenty of emails and periodicals in the field, and I see a lot about what the issues are at the local, state, and national level.

This morning, the NEA newsletter email came into our family account, and one of the articles featured asks “Does Cursive Need to be Taught in the Digital Age?” I thought about my opinion on the matter, and then threw the question out to Twitter, and the responses were vociferous and the opinions strongly-held. The techie sorts all think it’s a relic of the last century that we don’t need anymore in a digital age. The romantics feel it’s vital to know as a cultural touchstone and basis for elegance in communication. And every possible shade between those viewpoints were voiced. It struck me as a very polarizing issue, and has me curious as to how the answer breaks down for makers. So, here’s a quick poll:






I’m interested to see the results. Personally, I’m so over cursive. Mine always looked terrible, and after I took a drafting class, I relied on block printing whenever I need to hand write something. But since I can type 60+ words a minute, digital is the most efficient way for me to transfer my thoughts. But I understand we’re in a transitional period. Most of us still learned cursive in school, and it feels like part of what education is all about, a core competency. Next week we’re going to feature a lot of back-to-school stories, so this seems like a great time to tackle this issue. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, and let’s talk this out.

Now, for the list.

As part of my Twitterings each day, I love to ask folks fun maker-related questions. Thursday morning I asked folks to nominate their favorite makers in movies, TV, and books, and while the classics (MacGyver, the A-Team) were there, some great other suggestions came up as well. Here, in no particular order, are some great (mostly fictional) makers:

  • MacGyver
  • The A-Team
  • Jules Verne
  • Mythbusters
  • Donatello (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
  • Beekman (Beekman’s World)
  • Barney Collier (Mission Impossible)
  • Wallace and Gromit
  • Dr. Emmett Brown (Back to the Future)
  • David Lightman (Wargames)
  • Dr. Hans Zarkov (Flash Gordon)
  • Alton Brown
  • Dr. Bonnie Barstow (Knight Rider)
  • Ash (Evil Dead)
  • Q (James Bond movies)
  • Dexter (Dexter’s Laboratory)
  • Norm Abram (This Old House)
  • Tony Stark (Iron Man)
  • Hari Seldon (The Foundation Trilogy)
  • Don Herbert (Mr. Wizard)
  • Red Green (The Red Green Show)
  • Swiss Family Robinson
  • Caractacus Potts (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
  • Phineas and Ferb
  • E.T.

Who are your favorites who didn’t make it on the list? Please drop them in the comments!

And as a teaser, next week I have a story coming up about a guy who quit his job two years ago to move to the desert and start building his dream: a pedal-powered airplane that ordinary folks can afford and use. He’s almost done with the project, and we’re really excited to be able to talk about it.

Ken Denmead

Ken is the Grand Nagus of GeekDad.com. He’s a husband and father from the SF Bay Area, and has written three books filled with projects for geeky parents and kids to share.


Related

Comments

  1. Bron says:

    What are you gonna do when the E-Bomb falls on you, destroying all electronics and cant use that 60+ words a min skill to get your thoughts across? Oh that’s right, your gonna have to write them down, good thing you know cursive.

    But you also bring up another point… your thoughts. We now live in a day and age where we all think our thoughts have to be heard, as if we are more self important than we have ever been. I for one would miss video games, but I hope this internet thing would just go away. It has cheapened man kind and social interaction. I don’t need to learn anything, I have google. I don’t need to remember facts, I have google, and a cell phone app. Sad really what we are becoming, when two girls sit next to one another and the way they carry a conversation is through text messages rather than turning there head looking up and saying hi is sickening and sad. I guess I’ll shut up now… its not like my thoughts really matter.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      I’m going to get a typewriter, like I used when I was in high school, and still get my thoughts down faster and more legibly than I could with cursive ;)

  2. zephyrean says:

    Duuude. You forgot Gyro Gearloose. We’ve been through this two years earlier (2011/04/08/comment-winner-the-best-comic-maker-of-all-time/). Shame on you.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      Ha! Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Ryan Turner says:

    I’ve been writing in cursive exclusively, ever since it was taught to me in elementary school. My cursive is illegible, but exceptionally fast, which is probably why I liked it so much as a child.

    When I am note taking or scribing down my thoughts I don’t like being limited by my ability to put the letters on paper. Frankly, despite a typing WPM of 120+ I still find paper to be the best medium for forming ideas and every project I start begins with a stack of paper and a pencil.

    I certainly found value in learning cursive. In fact it is so ingrained that my “printing” is literally just cursive letters that are not connected.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      I want to be clear that I don’t think cursive itself is a bad thing, and everyone who has learned cursive and integrated it into their lives has gotten a lot out of it. More, the discussion here is whether it should be required or voluntary. Indeed, as I think about it more, cursive is really no different than typing. They are both intended to be hyper-efficient modes of transferring thought to some form of recorded media. And I’d be interested to get feedback on this, but I’d posit that they both use the same neuromotor processes, such that learning one developes much the same part of the brain as the other: thought, transferred through a learned motor skill into physical. If that’s the case, then we could offer kids (and their parents, helping make these decisions) the choice whether to learn one or both.

    2. Same here. I’m a fairly fast typist, and so comfortable with MessagEase that I can write much of a blog post using it :)

      However, I find myself more “involved” — emotionally, I guess — when I put my thoughts to paper before transferring them to my blog. Even if my handwriting is almost indistinguishable from doodling :)

  4. Jeff V says:

    I only read the headline and comments. Just wanted to leave a comment that this is not something I personally care about. People can write however they want, doesn’t make much difference.

  5. Hector says:

    In K-8 I was told regularly “You NEED to know cursive! All of your future teachers are going to want EVERYTHING written in cursive”

    Reaching High School (then college) just about every teacher on the first day of class highlighted that they prefer to have everything either printed or typed.

    I think it would have been far more adventagious to the educational system to focus on other English skills and insuring the student has very neat block printing, then only touching on cursive enough to sign ones name.

    Should it be totally abolished? No, but taught as an elective, no different than calligrophy.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      Hector, that’s a great anecdote, and probably as much an indication that there’s not a lot of communication between elementary, junior, and high schools in most districts, especially when it comes to curriculum. The programs usually come from the district level on down, and the little things (like writing cursive) get left to the teachers in the classroom. If they’ve been teaching cursive for so many years, and no one has told them to change that, they keep teaching it, and the thing they were told 15 years before (they want you to use cursive in high school!) is the one piece of data they have to support what they’re doing.

  6. TechnoWiz2Cubed says:

    Phineas and Ferb, Wallace and Gromit, and Mythbusters are my favorites from the list.

  7. Flying Frogs says:

    Having been punished in school for not writing cursive well enough, I certainly don’t believe it is for everyone. Time spend learning to work a keyboard would be better.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      FF – that’s terrible! There is really an emotional factor in this for a good percentage of people, due to how cursive was taught to them. Negative reinforcement is rarely the right way to get someone to embrace a practice and continue doing it once they have authority over their lives. That’s not so much cursive’s fault, as the teacher’s, but still.

      Of course, this makes me think of one other intersting wrinkle – we generally learn to sign our names in cursive. If we don’t learn cursive, how does that change signatures?

      1. kategladstone says:

        Re signatures: In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

        All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student produced it.

  8. Steve Hoefer says:

    My cursive is atrocious, bad enough that I spent numerous recesses in grade school in the back of the empty classroom forced to work on my form. But my printing is almost equally as bad. It’s at least legible, but sloppy. I don’t think we were ever taught to print. That’s probably wrong, but we certainly didn’t spend as much time on it as cursive.

    A few years ago I decided to do something about my horrible handwriting and learned italic handwriting. I hadn’t known about it before, but I’m sold on it now. It’s easy to learn (though harder for an adult), it’s at least as fast as cursive, and – this is the best part – it’s easy for everyone to read. It’s not loopy code, it’s the same shape letters as you see everywhere else. My handwritings not yet gorgeous, but I’m no longer ashamed of it.

    I could see a case for learning to -reading- cursive since there are many (historical) documents that use it. But I think it would make the world a better place if we abandoned cursive writing.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      Interesting! That may be similar to something my wife’s school was teaching for a while, called D’Nealian handwriting; sort of a halfway form of writing between block and cursive. Almost like teaching the kids an alternate font, which really, is all the difference between block and cursive.

      http://www.dnealian.com/samples.html

      1. kategladstone says:

        I’ve taught both italic and D’Nealian, and find great differences (to the advantage of italic) in the two methods and in their results (during and after instruction). To learn more about italic, visit http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, and http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/hwlesson.html … Enjoy!

  9. My cursive was terrible, and as soon as it was no longer required by my teachers (probably somewhere around the 8th grade) I stopped using it and began using a morphed printing-cursive of my own. The letters are legible, some are joined, and some are not. People say I have wonderfully distinct and legible handwriting – something my cursive NEVER was.

    Oddly enough, I came to find much later that my mother uses a similar handwriting style, and our writing looks very much alike. Knowing that I had never consciously tried to adopt her handwriting style (and frankly, I never even noticed how similar ours were until I was in my 30s), it makes me wonder if aspects of hand-eye coordination, and to some extent, style itself, is hereditary.

    Also, we moved around quite a bit when I was a child. I was taught cursive handwriting in one school system, and upon moving into another, was failing spelling tests because the way I was taught cursive had some loops placed differently, or omitted altogether. As a fourth-grader, I remember being FURIOUS, as I had not misspelled a single word, and was doing exactly what I was taught. That was my first introduction to the fact that life is not fair.

    I don’t see the value in forcing cursive writing to be taught as a mandatory class. Why not rather make it an elective, but ensure that children can actually PRINT legibly. I’d rather see a class in beginning critical thinking than cursive writing, it would be much more valuable.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      I completely believe that there are hereditary issues involved with how we hand write; my own cursive is very similar to my father’s, who is left-handed where I am right-handed!

  10. dave says:

    I’m curious if a side-effect would begin to appear if cursive was no longer taught.
    Would children NOT taught cursive have trouble *reading* cursive.
    Although it’s second nature now to read cursive handwriting since I was taught it in school.
    It seems it could be difficult to read if I was completely unfamiliar with it.

    Until at some point all cursive writing was to cease, say from anyone around you, employers for example, it would seem like the children who were not taught could possibly be at a disadvantage. Although the vast majority of correspondence and communication is done digitally and not hand-written, I can see the argument for dropping it However, I still run into it pretty much daily in some form or another.

    So, I would tend to agree with CrystalCow’s comment above, that children should absolutely be able to write legibly regardless of the format. But would go a step further and opine that children should be at least taught enough to recognize and read cursive and even write it, but not focus on it like in the past since I can agree it’s a less important skill than it once was.

    That said, in this age of email/texting/twitter/emoticon riddled slang fest, I think someone that has elegant handwriting skills should be admired the same as someone that can articulate and speak eloquently.

    1. kategladstone says:

      Reading cursive matters — and kids (or adults) who have not been made familiar with reading cursive won’t know how to read it —,but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. Why not teach children to read cursive, along with teaching other vital skills, including a handwriting style that’s actually _typical_ of effective handwriters? Research (sources on request) indicates that The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree.
      In other words:
      There’s a _reason_ that adults increasingly abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. (Source available on request.) When even most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it or even prioritize it?

  11. royshearer says:

    Considering that all the makers I know relish learning a new craft based skill of pretty much any sort, this seems like a pretty silly question.

  12. bandit, Albuquerque says:

    I am left handed. I also only have one hand – my right. I cannot cursive write at all. In 8th grade, a *teacher* told me I should take drafting in my high school to learn block printing && I should *never* cursive write again.

    I can block print && I keep paper work logbooks. I also type 40..50 WPM.

    If we had to rely on quill and ink, maybe. But we quite that a *long* time ago.

  13. Tommy Phillips says:

    I have struggled with my handwriting for my whole life, and cursive only made it worse. In the fourth grade, I decided to focus on it for a quarter, and got my first ever straight-A’s report card. After I had proved I could do it, I wasn’t interested in keeping up the level of focus it required for me.

    And, probably because of that, my handwriting kept getting worse over the years. When I was in college, I got a homework assignment back with a bad grade because the TA couldn’t read it. “Ridiculous,” I thought. “It’s a little messy, but it clearly says, um. Hmm. What does it say?”

    That’s when I started block printing everything.

    Not that block printing solved all my problems. My v’s and r’s, y’s and g’s, and n’s and u’s are easily confused.

    Recently, I’ve been considering taking some handwriting lessons, and now my list of systems to investigate includes not only Spencerian and Copperplate, but Italic and D’Nealian. Thanks for this discussion.

  14. MikeW says:

    I vote “YES” but not for the reasons you list. Writing cursive has been shown to change the way we think, the way we coordinate our thoughts. It is useful in the same way that art classes are useful even if you’ll never paint a landscape, reading fiction is useful even if you’ll never write a novel.

    1. Preston says:

      MikeW stated pretty much my thoughts on the matter. I may just add that cursive also helps us with fine motor skills that later in life aide us with effectively using small tools and fixing lil bits.

      If you don’t learn to write cursive, it will be harder to read it when others have written it. I do not believe it to be a completely dead art.

      Don’t treat cursive as an means to an end, allow it to build your brain and body.

      P.S. I mainly type, my cursive is horrible, and my print writing is palpably better. I do believe I am better off for knowing it however.

      1. kategladstone says:

        Cursive demands motor skills that (in my observation) it does not necessarily (or often) build. There are other handwritings — more attractive, more legible and faster — that (in my experience and observation) do a much more thorough and competent job of building those fine motor skills. The following sites provide some examples of this: http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/hwlesson.html

  15. Jean says:

    Well… I’m French. Currently 28. Cursive was, and still is the preferred mode of writing from primary school (even though you also learn print, of course, and at the same time) I learned to read and write from the same manual my parents and grandparents used, the Méthode Boscher: http://p0.storage.canalblog.com/04/12/379822/46564515.jpg It was created in the 1920s.
    I find cursive far more elegant than print, and always found the idea of print weird.
    Up to university, I managed to take notes in cursive, and often whole sentences rather than just words.

    Cursive requires some discipline, but it also teaches you to control your whole arm better, from elbow to finger. Which I’d think may come in handy for a maker.
    Handwriting also means that you need to be a bit more careful, as there is no handy Ctrl-Z or delete. Think twice, write once. The use of typewriters could be an interesting lesson for the younger generation. You can still type, but errors will cost you.

    Not knowing cursive means that fewer and fewer people would be able to decipher older manuscript letters and notes, I know it’s a problem some of my younger friends have. (They also look at me in a weird way after seeing my handwriting, because usually theirs is rather messier. You’d think I were running a different OS on my pen, or something.)

    I still take notes when needed. Most of the time on paper, because I don’t need to plug a notepad in, and its batteries won’t die at an inconvenient time. They may even last for decades, and still be in a format that can be read… as long as people can still decipher the weird squiggles. Which is quite a feat when you compare it to the number of different file and storage formats since the invention of the computer.
    Heck, it’s worth it just for the feel of good ol’ fashioned paper. And if you’re like some weirdo I know (ahem) you’ll even have a few pen holders and a choice of pen nibs and inks for when you want to send a fancy letter.

    One of my latest acquisitions was an old, battered copy of this:
    http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k204010t/f4.image
    Made around the second half of the 19th century, to teach children to read different kinds of handwriting.

    1. MikeW says:

      Something I hadn’t thought of, and should have! I am unable to decipher much of the older written German documentation & correspondence that I have, including my mother’s book of recipes.

      During WW2 in Germany the Fraktur alphabet was replaced with a Latin alphabet. Outside of Germany the Fraktur alphabet was still taught & used until much later. My parents were taught a printed, an informal cursive, and a formal cursive hand. The Latin alphabet has since taken over, but my parents, aunts & uncles (from Schwabian communities outside of Germany) didn’t learn the Latin alphabet until much later after having made their way to East/West Germany. And even then the Fraktur alphabet was often used for correspondence, aging aunts & uncles found it more comfortable.

      1. Jean says:

        People often knew several different ways to write.
        There was often the quick handwriting, which most of the time wasn’t quick and dirty, and when time and care were taken, titles on documents were often in some variation of gothic script, or the French Ronde http://luc.devroye.org/AllainGuillaume+Cie-RondeAncienne.jpg
        When sketches required annotation, then it was the drafting hand. Print could also be used within an otherwise cursive text for titles or emphasis. (You just don’t use series of cursive capitals, it’s unsightly and hard to read.)

        Another of my recent finds, an officer’s textbook, most likely written from lesson notes.
        https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-3IpKH88CAy8/Ug9b8fUoGHI/AAAAAAAAATM/KmAxbp98Jw0/s912/P1030328.JPG

  16. Jon K. says:

    I noticed Gadget Hackwrench is not on the list.

  17. pryapart says:

    I hope cursive continues to be taught in school, because many people still use it for occasional notes. I’ve also found that someone that hasn’t learned cursive often has trouble reading cursive. My daughter was not taught cursive in lieu of the ‘Duval’ method (a method of printing), which the school system aborted after my daughter graduated. She never got the opportunity to learn cursive and has trouble reading other peoples cursive. I’m bumping 60 years and although cursive was ingrained into me I learned to type in Jr High, and typed reports were required in college. For the last 40 years I’ve been using computers (coding, creating reports, pretty much all things ‘techie’) so usually do most of my communicating digitally. I understand the trend is moving away from handwriting, but cursive is not that difficult to learn and I don’t feel it should be passed on in school. And I agree that it also has a romantic/artistic quality to it, which also makes learning it worth the effort.

    To your maker list you could add Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison. Let’s not forget the Professor on Gilligan’s Island either. I love that you included Red Green (“This is only temporary, unless it works!”).

  18. KEGS says:

    I think it should be taught in school, I took calculus and I don’t use that either, should we not teach math because a computer can do it?

    I learned cursive and then did Architectural drafting and printing for a summer and from then on only printed. I even printed my signature, which a bank will not accept ( at that time at least).
    So now I scribble my signature and my handwriting is a mess of print and script. But if I tried, I could have nice handwriting..

  19. kategladstone says:

    Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources below.)

    Reading cursive matters, but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. Why not teach children to read cursive, along with teaching other vital skills, including a handwriting style typical of effective handwriters?

    Adults increasingly abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it?

    Cursive’s cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you smarter, makes you graceful, adds brain cells, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

    So far — in this article, this thread, and elsewhere — whenever a supporter of cursive has claimed the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident when others examine the claimed support:

    /1/ either the claim (of research support for cursive) provides no traceable source,

    or

    /2/ if a source is cited, it is misquoted or is incorrectly described (e.g., an Indiana University research study comparing print-writing with keyboarding is usually misrepresented by cursive’s defenders as a study “comparing print-writing with cursive”),

    or

    /3/ the claimant _correctly_ quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.

    What about signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

    All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

    SOURCES:

    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf
    OTHER:
    Background on our handwriting, past and present:

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —

    TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —

    [AUTHOR BIO: Kate Gladstone is the founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works and the director of the World Handwriting Contest]

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
    6-B Weis Road, Albany, NY 12208-1942 USA
    telephone 518-482-6763
    handwritingrepair@gmail.com

  20. CUP + PENNY says:

    Romance aside, research suggests that cursive can help dyslexic students re-wire their brains for easier/improved handwriting. But for most people I think it’s a wash between cursive and printing.

    1. kategladstone says:

      Re the research you claim — citations, please? (Author and title will do.) Here’s why I ask — in my experience and observation, whenever cursive’s cheerleaders claim research support, either they do not cite a source (as in your case) or they cite a sources or sources that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the person citing them, or by someone else whose misrepresentation had been accepted by the person citing that source. (For instance, the study most often cited by defenders of cursive is an Indiana University study [citation on request] which is claimed to compare print-writing with cursive — looking up the study for oneself, though, reveals that it did not involve cursive: the subjects were kindergarteners, and the study is a comparison of print-writing with keyboarding.)

  21. Julie E. says:

    I’ve done some very informal testing of the assertion that it’s faster to write in cursive than printing. My results, which are too few to be significant, are that this is usually not the case. But I need to do these tests with a wider variety of people–specifically, I suspect that some elementary school teachers are faster in cursive than in printing, and that most other people are faster at printing. I am pretty confident in my results that, at least through the fifth grade, students are much faster at printing than at cursive (at the school where I teach, we introduce cursive in the 3rd grade). Can anyone point to more careful research on this?

  22. Star Gazer says:

    Perhaps if kids didn’t have to learn cursive it would leave them more time to study spelling.