CORY TURNER, BYLINE: And I'm Cory Turner in Washington D.C., with NPR's new education team. We just heard a few arguments there in favor of cursive writing. Here's another one you may hear, that learning cursive helps young brains grow more than basic printing does. So we thought we'd take a few minutes to look inside the brain.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It is the swift and easy movement of impulses throughout the cerebrum that enables us to think. But this must be established through learning, and reinforced through practice.

TURNER: That's an old filmstrip from the 1950s. And that bit about learning and practice, well, motor neuroscientists say it's true of cursive writing.

AMY BASTIAN: From my perspective, from a motor neuroscientist's perspective.

TURNER: Professor Amy Bastian works at the Kennedy Krieger Institute on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. She has dedicated her career to studying how the brain talks to the body.

BASTIAN: I feel like the more variety of things you do in the fine motor domain, the more variety of hand movements you make, will improve your dexterity.

TURNER: Which sounded to me like the way a motor neuroscientist would say: Handwriting is awesome. But when I asked, is cursive better for a child's development than printing...

BASTIAN: I'll tell you honestly, I don't know.

STEVE GRAHAM: It really doesn't matter if it's manuscript or cursive.

TURNER: That's Steve Graham. He's a professor of education at Arizona State University, and he studies children's writing.

GRAHAM: It is kind of silly, in a way, that you have state legislatures getting all tied up in this.

TURNER: Other researchers agreed - that cursive is good, but there's no hard evidence that it's better than printing. As long as children are writing in school, it doesn't really matter if the letters curl and connect. So problem solved. Or is it?

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Imagine a world without handwriting. It's not as farfetched as it sounds.

TURNER: This is a promo for a conference a few years back of researchers and educators, called Handwriting in the 21st Century? There's a question mark there at the end.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Handwriting instruction is in danger of becoming increasingly marginalized. What would be lost if handwriting was no longer taught in our schools? Plenty.

TURNER: It turns out, the real fear among those who, like Steve Graham, study kids and handwriting is not that our schools will stop teaching cursive.

GRAHAM: We don't see much writing going on at all across the school day.

TURNER: So what are kids doing if they're not writing?

GRAHAM: Filling in blanks on worksheets, one-sentence responses to questions, maybe in a short response summarizing information.

TURNER: In other words, not enough essays and too much this, that or all of the above. Now, some of the people who are fighting to keep cursive in schools argue that computers are the enemy. Instead of writing, kids are typing on the keyboard. But there are two problems with that argument. One: the researchers I spoke with all said that learning to type is actually a good thing for kids. And problem two...

VIRGINIA BERNINGER: Schools are not teaching keyboarding.

TURNER: Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, is a big champion of handwriting and typing. And she's worried that both have been nudged to the side by crowded state standards. If new standards are going to change that, teachers have to be allowed to make time.

Scott Beers teaches education at Seattle Pacific University.

SCOTT BEERS: If we expect kids to develop mastery in anything and develop fluency in anything, they have to be doing it on a regular basis.

TURNER: Experts say focus on handwriting early and often - print or cursive, or both. And then as kids' brains develop, gently lay the groundwork for typing. It's not either/or. It's all of the above. The good kind.

Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Also on today's program: At the nuclear summit in Europe, President Obama calls Russia's stance toward Ukraine a sign of weakness not strength. And we have the latest on the 170,000 gallon oil spill in the Houston Ship Channel.

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