The Death of Cursive

by Samantha on August 5, 2013

cursive is important

It’s all over, folks.

Some of you may remember the time in public school when you got your first pencil. On a specially-lined piece of paper, you tentatively set the lead to the page and pressed. As you moved your hand slowly while concentrating on the script, shape and feel of the letter, you felt a wave of both excitement and pride in your discovery.

You were learning to write, and isn’t that what older, smarter and wiser people did?

Writing, you knew, was a way of having the world open up to you because with this tool, you could convey your thoughts and feelings and receive the same in return. Writing was the currency of thought, knowledge, investigation and revelation. Writing was going to allow you to express yourself in a way that had previously been impossible.

Even at your tender age, it was evident that the power behind the written word was unmistakeable. And that power would start with the simple stroke of a pencil, and later a pen.

But as with everything, all things must come to an end and the desire learn to write - literally - has all but disappeared from our cultural conscience. Children these days emulate their parents and elders and aspire to do what they see their esteemed role models doing. One doesn’t have to look very far to see that what is being done by these people  rarely includes anything close to the act of writing, of bringing pen, or pencil, to paper. No, what is being done involves keyboard strokes, texting and video or voice messaging. Writing with a tool such as a pencil or pen, is nowhere in the mix. As a result, is it any wonder then that cursive writing - once a standard of the elementary school experience - is in its death throes?

Cursive - the ability to join letters via script in a conjoined or flowing manner is a lost art. Even amongst those of us who were schooled during a time where this skill was mandatory there is a large contingent of messy writers, whose attempts at using script is often mistaken for “chicken scratch” or worse. So reliant have we become on the keyboard and our digital methods of communication that the need for old-fashioned handwriting on those rare occasions that arise elicits feelings of incredulity, annoyance and often fear. Now seen as an anachronistic vestige of days gone by, script produced by one’s own hand is a skill that is being phased out of many school boards. Kids today apparently don’t need it, therefore it’s rapidly being removed from the curriculum.

“So reliant have we become on the keyboard and our digital methods of communication that the need for old-fashioned handwriting on those rare occasions that arise elicits feelings of incredulity, annoyance and often fear.”

Cursive appears to have become obsolete. The thought of communicating a message “by one’s own hand” - literally - is only seen as an acceptable form of interaction in the absence of more recent technological tools. Those who write are often scorned and “snail mail” is seen as an inferior and archaic method of connecting with others despite its once important role in our lives.

Yet the gains that we used to make by learning script and painstakingly writing each and every letter of the alphabet in a certain format has been lost in our zeal to make our lives easier. We love our tech tools and as a result we’ve got less patience, more anxiety and little time to learn a skill that may take a bit longer than crafting a quick text message or email. We’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater by reducing cursive to an old-fashioned way of doing things that has no place in the modern world.

The repercussions of our actions? Well, there are many:

  • The manual dexterity, precision and fine-motor control are skills that children gain from the act of using cursive will be in short supply
  • Our children’s academic abilities will be hindered when cursive writing is replaced by keyboard strokes
  • A large part of our cultural history will become lost as a result of cursive being phased out in schools
  • Children’s ability to read important historical documents or letters from grandparents or older relatives will be severely hindered
  • Our children will never know the sense of achievement felt after finally “getting it” following many months of earnest practice of each and every letter of our alphabet

What may on the surface seem to be a vestige of a less advanced time, cursive is, in fact, more that it may appear. Yes - it may look “quaint” in the face of our latest voice-recognition software that transcribes our aural words into text. It may not have all of the convenient shortcuts, bells and whistles of the most recent iteration or version upgrade available for quick and easy download. It may not even have the “wow factor” of being able to type without care, as sloppily as possible, only to have your super-intelligent A.I. clean up your dirty work, making you look like a precise and competent writer. Cursive and all of its inherent benefits provides us a link to our past, connectivity within our present and a portal to our future. So much of our history has been documented only through cursive script.  And moving forward, our future leaders and generations to come may be better able to understand each other - and themselves - as a result of the communications skills learned via cursive.

For these and so many other reasons, cursive is a skill that must remain within our schools and our cultural realm. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater in our efforts to appear “advanced” because by doing so, we’re only hurting ourselves…and our children.

Do you think that cursive should continue to be taught in schools, or should we phase it out altogether? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.

To read this article on Huffington Post, CLICK HERE.

Image courtesy of http://cursive-handwriting-worksheets.pom-pom.net

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia Nolan-Hall (Caftan Woman) August 7, 2013 at 3:11 am

When my late father was in grade school he won a pen and pencil set for having the best handwriting of any student. I know this because my grandmother was extremely proud of the achievement and bragged about it many times.

Cursive writing is essential to my personal creative process. The pen to the paper is always the first draft for anything I write. I need it.

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Samantha August 7, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I too, was raised with cursive, and while I don’t use it as much as I used to, it still remains an important and cherished skill to have. It’s saddening to think of all of the kids that are now growing up, never to acquire the beauty of script, or the ability to read historical documents written in this way.

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jenniferlucas August 11, 2013 at 4:47 pm

-I used to be an Educational Advocate for parents of special needs children, I was chair of School Council for many years I was a member of The association of Bright Children only to name a few as well as SEAC member. The educational system now sure is a lot different from when I was a student in the 60′s and 70′s. I believe that cursive writing is becoming a lost art, yet it is one that should be retained. Children in this society NEED to know cursive, keyboards may be the way of the future however being able to write cursively is also important as not everything is keyboard related. Just my thoughts from Old School

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Samantha August 17, 2013 at 3:54 am

Exactly. Call me “Old School” as well, Jennifer. I too believe that cursive is a skill that should not be tossed out as quickly as it has been in the recent past. Technology is great but our kids still need to learn and use those manual/hand-eye coordination skills that are part and parcel of the cursive experience. Let’s hope that this shift will swing back to where it once was - for the sake of our kids.

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Kate Gladstone January 30, 2014 at 4:23 am

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. (In fact, now there’s even an iPad app to teach how: named “Read Cursive,” of course — http://appstore.com/readcursive .) So why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, including some handwriting style that’s actually typical of effective handwriters?

Educated adults increasingly quit 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 even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use 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.

For instance:

The much-ballyhooed difference in SAT scores between cursive writers and non-cursive writers is … brace yourself … 1/5 of a point on the essay exam. That’s all.

(Yes, I checked with the College Board — see below for the source info they sent me — because not one of the many, many media that mention the “slightly higher” difference actually states _how_much_”slightly higher” the difference is. The College Board researchers who found the difference note, in their findings that this one isn’t statistically significant: in other words, it’s so small that it’s less than the difference you’d expect if the same person took the same test twice. In fact, it’s even smaller than the score differences between males and females taking the SAT.)

So far — in this article and elsewhere — whenever a devotee 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!)

Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest.
Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.
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

College Board research breakdown of SAT scores (the cursive/printing information is on page 5)
http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/about/news_info/cbsenior/yr2006/cbs-2006_release.pdf
Background on our handwriting, past and present:
3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —
http://youtu.be/3kmJc3BCu5g

TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —
http://youtu.be/s_F7FqCe6To

HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
(shows how fine motor skills are developed in handwriting WITHOUT cursive) —
http://youtu.be/Od7PGzEHbu0

[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

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Samantha August 7, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I agree, Donna. Like you, my writing used to be so much better; it’s suffered since the digital age has come upon us full force. There are not many instances where we can use our handwriting abilities these days, are there?

And yes - technology does sometimes fail and we need to revert to the “old-fashioned” way of doing things. What happens when we can’t even write a simple document and there’s no keyboard backup? Something to consider, for sure…

Thanks for your comment.

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