Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Researcher Pushes Back on Cursive Writing Op-Ed From Senator


(Wikimedia Commons)

An Indiana University researcher says the lawmaker behind a cursive writing bill approved by the Senate misused her work to support the cause.

Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) has filed the same bill to require cursive writing curriculum in schools every year, since 2011. As this year’s bill heads to the House, the graveyard for cursive writing bills past, Leising wrote an op-ed to discuss why such a bill is needed. Part of the piece mentioned IU professor and researcher Karin James, saying her work describes ways cursive writing can help kids better understand and compose words. But James says that’s not her focus.

“So I was surprised to see my research supporting a cursive mandate because I don’t study cursive writing for one thing,” James says.

James says her study focused on the way physically writing letters impacts the way kids’ brains identify letters, not word competency and fluency. Plus, she usually works with 4- or 5-year-olds, who she says can barely hold a pencil, let alone write in cursive.

“My research doesn’t address that question. I’ve looked at cursive writing in brain development in one particular experiment, and found no difference between cursive and printing in those children,” James says.

James says using scientific research incorrectly is a problem, because it has the power to influence a person’s opinion on an issue.

Leising says she sent an apology to James, and won’t use her research in the future.


  • KateGladstone

    News that a senator tells untruths about research, to support her favorite bill, is no news at all when one considers how the same senator has avoided acknowledging the possible conflict of intere$t underlying the testimony given in support of this sand bill (at the request of this same senator) on January 3, before the Indiana Senate Education Committee,l.

    On that day, one of the persons giving testimony in favor of that bill, who introduced himself as Rick Rickoff (but who had been incorrectly introduced by the chairman as “Dick Hickoff”), correctly stated that he works for the magazine HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN — but he failed to make the committee aware that HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN is the company which wholly owns the privately traded firm Zaner-Bloser, Inc., which is a major publisher of cursive handwriting textbooks. (At one time, Zaner-Bloser in fact owned HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN, but their fortunes — and, with them, the relationship between the two companies — eventually reversed as Zaner-Bloser eventually found it more and more difficult to retain past customers or to increase its customer base for cursive handwriting products.)

    Other facts to take into account, in considering the testimony offered by Rickoff and by others who spoke to favor mandating cursive, are these:

    • Every speaker who claimed research support for cursive handwriting made this claim on the basis of studies which (when actually read in their original publication) fail to support cursive handwriting over any of the other forms of our handwriting. (These studies support handwriting of all forms, not limited to cursive, as superior in several ways to keyboarding — but they do not find or claim any special superiority for cursive over any of the other forms of our handwriting. This becomes clear when the original publications and originally cited sources are looked up: though source names and citations may have been mentioned in the handouts that were distributed by Senator Jean Leising and her staff during the January 3rd committee meeting, Senator Leising — as documented in my previous letter — has a known prior history of having distributed claims and materials, on the subject of handwriting in general and of cursive in particular, whose contents were eventually discovered to be significantly at variance with the originals that those claims and materials purported to cite, to copy, or otherwise to represent adequately and accurately.)

    • Every speaker who supported cursive handwriting made a particular assertion which, although commonplace and popular, in fact has no legal or other factual basis — namely, the assertion that signatures which are not cursive are “not signatures” or “not legal,l and that therefore it must be correct and obligatory to reject them (as is indeed done by those who have fallen in line with that popular belief, which is so deeply cherished by those who have spoken in favor of it as a reason for mandating cursive).
    It is worthwhile for the legislators and the citizens of Indiana to remember that the governor of the state, Eric Holcomb, himself writes a printed signature — as you probably know, this has been publicly documented by Indiana Chamber of Commerce head Caryl Auslander, as well as by the JOURNAL-GAZETTE and other Indiana papers in discussing SB 8.
    Another user of a print-written legal signature is our new US Treasurer, Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin’s signature appears, not only on official correspondence, but on all newly printed paper currency. To see Mnuchin’s legal print-written signature /1/ (letter by Mnuchin, shown in a CNN report on him) and /2/ (a current dollar bill). If Jean Leising, and the co-authors and supporters of her bill, really believed their own statements that signatures require cursive in order to be legal, they would have “put their money where their mouths are” … and they would be refusing to accept American currency and, therefore, they would be refusing to deposit or withdraw from their paychecks.

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works

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