Campbell professor defends cursive writing in schools

August 5, 2011 | Leave a Comment

Campbell professor defends cursive writing in schools

BUIES CREEK -- There has been recent public outcry over the omission of cursive writing from the U.S. Common Core Curriculum, a 2010 initiative adopted by 45 states – including North Carolina – to provide consistency across the country’s education systems.

Add Campbell Professor of Communication Studies Michael Smith to the growing list of cursive advocates. The author of “Free Press in Freehand,” about the 19th century Harnett County journalist who published 277 newspapers handwritten in cursive during the Civil War, Smith spoke to Rotarians in Southern Pines on Aug. 5, about why he opposes the elimination of cursive writing in public schools and why the move will be a blow to a child’s learning development.

“I point to March 11 of this year,” Smith said, “and the worst tsunami and earthquake in Japan’s history. It knocked everything out, yet you had journalists who still got the news out, writing it by hand. If you go to the Newseum (in Washington, D.C.) today, you can see examples. We think we’re so technologically advanced that we don’t need writing, but this is a good case study showing why we shouldn’t be so cocky about this. We still need it.” 

Smith stops short of saying he’s on a “crusade” on the subject, which has gained recent national attention as more states adopt the Curriculum. North Carolina was one of the first states to sign on in June 2010, but according to Smith, schools in Harnett County will continue to teach cursive by choice – news he’s pleased to hear.

“There’s something that happens in the brain when you do these kind of motions,” Smith said while pointing to paragraphs from  John McLean Harrington’s newspapers during the Civil War. “They’re hard motions, fine motor control motions, and you have to practice them to get a certain facility with them. People who can write quickly, like journalists for example, tend to capture a thought on paper that somebody who can only print can’t capture.”

Smith said students who write quickly and legibly in cursive tend to score higher on the essay portion of their SAT exams. And he said the most important “stamp” a person carries with them is a result of their ability to write in cursive.

“If for no other reason, cursive is important because your signature is legally the one thing that proves you approve of a document,” Smith said. “I guess people will at least have to learn to do a signature.”

Smith said he will feature the cursive writing debate again in an upcoming lecture in St. Louis about his book. “Free Press in Freehand: The Spirit of American Blogging in the Handwritten Newspapers of John McLean Harrington, 1858-1869” is available at Campbell’s Barnes & Noble Book Store or online at

By Billy Liggett