You Don’t See Adults Riding Tricycles

by Nathan Shrewsbury

As legislative action designed to preserve cursive in the classroom spreads across the country like wildfire, certain comments get batted around again and again as the internet articles and blog posts about cursive bills fill up with comments.  One that comes up again and again goes something like this: ‘When I learned cursive in grade-school, they told me I would have to use cursive for everything in high school; I didn’t. Now I never use cursive except to sign my name.’

This is one of the best arguments I have seen from those attempting to paint cursive as completely unnecessary in the modern digital age. It unwittingly employs all three elements of classic Greek rhetoric (ethos pathos and logos).  It shows the person actually learned cursive, which gives weight to their opinion (ethos). It makes a claim that the individual was mislead about the necessity of something they did not want to do, which is a great emotional argument. None of us like being manipulated with false information or being forced to do something we don’t want to, so there’s pathos. Last but not least is the logical (logos) argument that in modern life, we do not do much writing by hand.

In a recent conversation with CursiveLogic creator and founder Linda Shrewsbury (mom to me), she made an observation. While discussing how students who learn cursive have more academic success than those who do not, she commented “You don’t see adults riding tricycles, but that doesn’t mean we stop giving them to kids. A tricycle is a developmental tool, and Cursive is too.”

Ah the tricycle. I remember getting mine more than three decades ago as a Christmas Present. I drove it in circles on the porch, with another CursiveLogic founder standing on the back and holding on to me. When my sixth birthday rolled around I skipped training wheels and went straight to a two-wheeler of my own after my parents observed me riding my friend’s bicycle.

Today, it warms my heart to see my three-year-old racing her tricycle across the shop floor of her Nana’s 5000 sq ft shop floor, with her baby brother trailing closely, at speeds I could not dream of on my little back porch at her age.  Her first vehicle, at the age of 2, was a power wheels truck which worked great for her because she could ride it on the grass in my backyard. I did not have a porch for her in Virginia, so there really wasn’t space for a tricycle. I worried about excessive mechanized play and wondered if she was being deprived of exercise during play.

Cursive writing prepares student for academic success, the same way a tricycle prepares children for a bicycle and myriad other physical activities and mechanical devices by coordinating movements of the hands and feet. Learning to make those 26 letters in a consistent uniform way builds familiarity and understanding of written language while integrating fine motor skill and the innate human desire to create something. Is this why students who learn cursive do better overall academically? It certainly could not hurt.

As we learn more about correlation between cursive writing and academic success we should consider the following: The U.S. Dept of Education says that 19% of high school graduates can’t read. (click here to read) While I have seen many comments where the person posting laments his or her infrequent use of cursive, here is a comment that I have never seen: “I had to take cursive in grade school, and now I am one of that 19% that can’t read.”

We see cursive writing a lot more than we see adults riding tricycles. Perhaps cursive’s potential for daily use during a lifetime makes us forget its critical role as a stepping stone to academic achievement.

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