Does cursive writing deserve to be cursed?

I am certain of four things: 

Death and taxes will never go away, 

no tattoo artist will ever leave any inked artwork anywhere on my body, 

and, 

I never want to forget how to use a pen. 

I consider myself lucky to be a product of a childhood where cursive was required and taught daily up through the 6th grade, with deliberate attention and expectation by my teachers to put faithful effort into learning to master the letter formation/slant and appearance of my handwriting to the best of my ability. 

I equally consider myself to be a lucky adult who entered the world of computers and rapidly advancing technology during her office work life years. I love all this technology stuff and the way my computer and the Internet can whiz me around the globe and into resource materials and help me keep connected—or get reconnected—with former friends, relatives and co-workers. 

But I don’t want to be only one way or the other. I want and need my keyboard skills to remain at peak performance, but I also want my handwriting muscles to remember how to connect with my brain, maintain the eye-hand coordination and motor skill development that I’ve been developing ever since one of my teachers said: “Today we are going to begin cursive writing . . .” 

The other day I read an article about a local 10-year old girl who was named the Grand National Champion for the fourth-grade division of the Zaner-Bloser 21st Annual National Handwriting Contest. 

My heart went yippy-skippy at the very headline and the inference therein: OMG! There are still kids out there in this thumb-punching, electro-gadget society who actually like to write using a pen! 

The article was telling. The principal at this girl’s school commented in the article that she receives a lot of grief from her fellow administrators because she is allowing handwriting to be taught in her school yet! R-e-e-a-l-l-y . . .? 

But the next paragraph in the article presented a fine point, as the girl’s teacher pointed out how the class talks about the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence at the beginning of their school year—and how these important American documents are written in cursive. “We tell the kids they can’t read these historical documents if they can’t read cursive handwriting.”

Contemplate the implications here . . . We do want our future lawyers, judges and general voting public and the like to be able to read these docs–don’t we? 

For sure we can’t, nor should we want to try to stem the flow of improving technology and communication methods, but to think we should abandon completely something as personal and fundamental as our individual handwriting scares me a bit, I guess. 

When you write your thoughts, ideas—or even just your signature–on paper, that is pure You, however good or bad it looks. That comes right out of your center of being. That is your ink-spot place on this planet, baby. Doesn’t that count for something? 

We are still warm-blooded and soft human beings; we aren’t robots who have a chip with a predesigned signature on it that can be produced at the punch of a couple of keys. That doesn’t require any invested human emotion—it just takes some technological programming. Big deal. It’s cold as ice—and there is no human connection behind it. 

I’ve been clocked at 90 words a minute typing—and that is with a pretty dang high accuracy, too. 

When I’ve taken part in the National Novel Writing marathons, I’ve had days where I keyboarded in as many as 6200 words in one day. My right hand shakes at the thought of trying to write that many words with a pen. But consider this: I have read interviews with Stephen King where he said he will still handwrite out some of his first drafts for his manuscripts. Wow. Whether you like his stuff or not, you have to give the guy credit for being able to longhand draft a manuscript. 

A keyboard lets you fly. True enough. But when you pick up a pen, your mind has to slow down because most of us can’t write as fast as our mind can take us. It is in that slowed down phase that we then can go deeper, interact more with our thought processes, our feelings, our ideas —  and we have a ton of wonderful inventions that keep us all cozy and comfy today because of people who worked this way. 

It is this untapped magic that I fear we will overlook, if we become content to only write with keyboards, and fail to allow the next generations their chance to experience writing with their own hand as they learn to navigate around cursive instruction and practice. 

And if that isn’t enough, consider what this latest 4th grader National Champion had to say about it: 

“It’s faster to write in cursive than to print. Most adults use cursive, so it’s good to be able to read what they write.”

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17 thoughts on “Does cursive writing deserve to be cursed?

  1. Rebecca — teaching cursive isn’t the only way to help people end up with what is actually a faster writing — a semi-joined style that unites the best elements of cursive with the best elements of manuscript. In many English-speaking countries and elsewhere — and even in some schools and many home schools in the USA — it’s common to teach a semi-joined efficient style from the get-go (instead of the strange American custom of teaching two quite different styles in quick succession and then hoping that the resulting hybrid will be of the efficient kind.) After all, why not teach — in the first place — what we want ultimately to achieve (a rapidmyet simple writing style) instead of leaving the students to try to assemble it from bits and pieces of two other stylistic extremes as they go along? To learn more about an efficient semi-joined style (it’s called Italic), visit http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com , http://www.BFHhandwriting.com , http://www.handwritingsuccess.com , and/or http://www.italic-handwriting.org

  2. Ironically, a survey this January by Zaner-Bloser — the same handwriting-book corporation which sponsors that contest — shows that most adults today _don’t_ write in cursive: see survey item #2 at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    Further, research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive. They join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citation: Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HANDWRITING STYLE AND SPEED AND LEGIBILITY. 2001: on-line at http://www.sbac.edu/~werned/DATA/Brain%20research%20class/handwriting%20speed%20style%20legibility%20berninger.pdf — and there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.)
    Reading cursive still matters — this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.
    Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don’t take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone — CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    Director, the World Handwriting Contest
    Co-Designer, BETTER LETTERS handwriting trainer app for iPhone/iPad

    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

    • Thank you, Ms Gladstone, for taking your time to present material and the locations where people can read it for themselves.

      I gladly share your information here.

      R’becca G.

      P.S. Incidentally, Karen–my middle name is “Sue” as well, but I’m not married to a lawyer. ;-)

  3. Finally getting my inbox cleaned out for the week and am so glad I took time to ready your blog. I LOVE writing in cursive. I love everything about it–the paper, the pen, the feel of the ink flowing across the page. I’m very fussy about my pens–they have to ‘feel’ just right or they are soon discarded. When I happen upon one I especially like, it’s the favorite for awhile and goes everywhere I go. Okay–I’m old school–but I love cursive writing and am thrilled when I see a page of properly scripted writing. Thanks for reminding me of all this! (BTW–also love typing and the feel of the keyboard, but that’s for another blog….)

    • I knew you and I would be on the same page with this one, Bonnie!

      I have several friends who tell me they have to have the right pen. Some of them even have very expensive, special pens that they use only for journaling. It’s part of the whole experience for them.

      Thanks for reading, as always, and taking time to leave us a comment.

      Hope things are going well for you this hot and dry summer.

  4. Rebecca, Enjoyed this post a lot! I recently read that anything connected to the teaching of cursive handwriting has become a “collectible antique!” Charts, books, etc.

    I don’t think my 20-something son ever learned cursive. His early school work looked sort of like ransom notes. Lol. And remember Bart Simpson’s struggle with “handwriting?” How he could never read anything the teacher wrote on the board?

    I fear much has been lost, too.

    • Thanks for writing this, Ann. You help me make my case with such.

      How in the heck can we keep education and advancement going if we all can’t read and communicate on some common level??

      And I’m not going to quit asking that question, either!

      You take care.

      R’bec

      • Of course, given the way kids text these days, we probably ought to be grateful if they can write and spell anything. We may very well have reason to fear the death of even printed handwriting in the not-too-distant future.

      • I fear the pendulum has been allowed to go too far with all the texting/toys, etc.

        Anything done in excess is going to demand a huge price tag of its own choosing down the road–and then everyone will turn around and ask: “How did this happen?” and start pointing fingers.

        History just repeats itself.

  5. We also couldn’t read most of the census in order to index it…

    I have indexed (or arbitrated) one or two census pages that were hand printed rather than cursive. And I have tried to index (or arbitrate) a few census pages where the cursive was so bad that it was anybody’s guess what the writer meant. But based on the sample I have seen, the 1940 United States Federal Census must be way over 95% cursive so bad handwriting or not we need to know how to read it if we want to use the information contained therein.

    p.s. In Junior High School I had a teacher who printed rather than wrote cursive – and I decided if he could get away with it, so could I. I was pretty surprised when my Engineering Graphics instructor at ISU said he liked my hand lettering, and to this day my signature is about the only thing I write in cursive. But it is painfully slow.

    • Thanks, Jon.

      We have to do what works for us, but I maintain that we have to allow people the chance to find out what works for them. And removing cursive training completely is wrong, in my opinion.

  6. I always hated cursive, because I found it to be slower to write and looked sloppier (at least my hand did). I was so happy when I transferred schools in 8th grade and they didn’t require that we write in cursive. My handwriting is predominately print, although I will naturally slur some letters together in a cursive style. I read a study on someone else’s blog that a combination of print and cursive is most common in adults and is considered the fast way to write by hand.

    • We each have to do what works best for us, don’t we, Keri, but at least you were afforded the opportunity to find out.
      If they take cursive out of the school systems completely, whole generations won’t even be given the choice. I do not believe that is the best way to go.

      Thanks for coming out to read and comment. Much appreciated.

  7. Right on R’becca, or is it write on R’becca? Either way you are correct. I for one love to use a pen and write in cursive. Of the many childhood memories lost to me for one reason or another, the memory of sitting in class and practicing my cursive letters is a fond one. I always wanted to be the best and was jealous of others who style seemed superior. Today I have developed so many styles, I often go back and read something I wrote and don’t recognize the handwriting. But, as to the problem at hand; if the next terrorism against our country is as predicted, it will be cyberterrorism and our internet and techno world will go crashing down around us. Then, as in one of my favorite movies, Independence Day, when the ailiens from outerspace attack and they had to resort to Morse Code to save the planet, we shall have to resort to cursive to communicate. I say down with the techno world, right after I get my book finished, my blog complete, and my Facebook people straightened out on how to live together compatibly in this crazy world. Keep writing girl.

    • Ohhhhhh—I LOVE Independence Day–and just watched it recently!

      Yes! We need to remember not to give up all of our “basics.”

      I fear no one has impressed the impact of a “techno-melt down” nearly enough to the younger ones….One solid EMI (electro-magnetic impulse) could wipe out absolutely everything of our digital/electronic lives: photos, playlists, addresses, phone numbers–yadyadayada….

      It wouldn’t be pretty.

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